Tag Archives: Sepp Holzer

The Biggest Little Farm Review

Yesterday we went to the Alamo to watch The Biggest Little Farm. We felt we could relate to the day-to-day activities of this pioneering couple the Chesters, who like us, are trying to develop their land into sustaining cycles of life between the plants and animals in a way that enhances the quality of both.

We bought our 230 acre farm in June, 2000 and they bought theirs about ten years later. While the sizes of the farms are comparable, they seem to have had much more investment income, being able to do very large clearing and excavation projects.

But it is on the daily trials and successes that their story is so moving. Like us, they have predator problems. For them it is mostly coyotes, in our case it is an assortment of possums, raccoons, foxes, snakes and even the periodic fisher that eats our chickens and Bantams. A blue heron even drops in from time to time to eat our fish, and completely cleaned one of our small ponds of Koi. The Chesters solves this in much the same way we do, encouraging the dogs to patrol the animals in their care, with mixed success.

When they state in the movie that they planted over 75 varieties of fruit trees I had to chuckle to myself. Our vineyard has over 20 varieties of grapes, and we have planted about 20 kinds of fruit trees on a property that when we arrived only had only apple tree. We agree with their desire for diversity. Not only do most trees ripen at different times, but some will show more resilience to the specific soil of the area. It is this trial and error process that eventually leads you to the best varieties of trees and plants for you area. Doing this means that you can limit sprays and treatments that would be needed by a weaker plant.

They have solved other problems by seeking solutions that benefit another part of their plant/animal cycle. For example, when inundated with snails that devoured their citrus trees, they released their flock of ducks into the vineyard to devour the pests. Food for the ducks, fertilizer for the trees, and no pesticides. Problem solved. Many of their processes and philosophies echo Sepp Holzer’s permaculture methods, but his name, or the work permaculture, are never mentioned.

We try to solve problems in the same way. I used to spend hours weeding the hoop house (low tunnel), or seeking a safe way to get rid of pests like aphids. Now I pick up the phone and call Moyers chicks for a batch of Broiler chicks. They eat the plants and aphids and I get a fertilized hoop house and 9 weeks later excellent quality chicken. I call this a win-win situation!

The Chesters use this method to solve many of their farm problems, including installing owl houses to control the gopher problem. They found that their farm thrived on the checks and balances of nature and achieving equilibrium. It was a delightful movie.

We have been trying to attain this equilibrium here as well, but we are fighting against the stream. The predators that we have the biggest problems with are ones that have few natural predators to keep them in balance. Snakes abound, and the DNR released rattlers some years back to keep the turkey population in check. As a result the rest of the natural bird population took a hit. We haven’t seen a grouse in years, or quail. DNR states they are concerned about a dwindling Whip-poor-will population, but I wonder if it occurred to them that the snakes might be an issue. Years ago we scarcely saw snakes but this year alone we’ve sighted over two dozen and just this morning had an almost five foot snake in our family room. Still seeking to protect the animals we raise, and always looking for more solutions, just like the Chesters.

Misguided Environmentalism

The house smells like salsa from the batch of 21 pints that we canned last night, made with produce from our farm as well as my friend Esther’s (thank you, Esther!) It is such a good feeling to be able to grow and produce our food and feel the satisfaction from our hard work and perseverance. Unfortunately, due to misguided notions, the ability to live off the land is literally being denied to people. So I dedicate this, my 100th blog post, to Misguided Environmentalism.   In case you don’t think this is a real threat, see Dr. Mercola’s article about small farmers facing jail time…

There are several categories of errors that I’d like to describe. I have seen people fall for one of the other, and in rare cases, for all of them. If skimming, I recommend you go the section at the end called NIMBY.

Don’t Shoot Bambi – This is a popular statement we hear from people recently displaced from cities, especially by those who have cabins that they only visit half a dozen times a year. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not stereotyping all visitors from the city – I was once one of them. But, if you’ve had a superior attitude toward hunters, this shoe may fit.

In this county the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates there are approximately 50,000 deer. This means there are more deer than people. It also means that there are numerous automobile accidents, the results of which are devastating for the humans, deer and cars involved. But there are other issues. The deer population is now so large that the existing mast crop cannot always supply for it, creating years in which the deer are malnourished, leading to disease and death. The deer end up competing for corn at places where people bait deer (please don’t do this). Since the deer are concentrated in these areas, diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) are readily spread. The deer also spread the deer tick, the source of Lyme Disease.

Walk through the woods where deer are in abundance, and you’ll see what is called the browse line. This is the height to which deer can reach the lower branches of trees as well as the shrubs and plants below. In a heavily populated area, you’ll find that the undergrowth of a forest is missing, disrupting the cycle of the forest. Since they tend to eat their favorite plants and trees first, it diminishes the diversity in the forest.

We’ve had some record-breaking snow falls over the last decade, and when these occur, the deer are again hard-pressed to find the limited food. We have seen the deer suffering, slowly dying, as they move slowly downhill and eventually expire in the streams. We know this is a serious problem as we have met DNR agents doing inspections and assessing the extent of the problem.

There is also some arrogance in some of the people who have admonished others with the “don’t shoot Bambi” slogan. Many families we know support themselves with the venison that they look forward to each fall, and yet there are those who do not or will not understand that this is a staple, not a luxury.

In some jurisdictions, there are proposals to limit the deer populations by implanting birth control devices in them, such as slow release hormone implants. This is perhaps one of the most misguided “solutions.” We already have problems with municipal water supplies filled with estrogen hormones from women on birth control or hormone replacement, resulting in male fish with female parts. Is it intelligent to make this situation even worse?

The truth is that if the deer are not hunted within reasonable amounts, the deer suffer. It is logical to allow a family to put food on their tables and keep the deer populations in check.

Electric cars are good for the environment – We know people who have fallen for this one, especially in Washington, DC. They happily plug their cars in and make condescending remarks about our gas vehicle. I’d love for Voltz and Prius owners to see the additional power lines that were just recently erected in our otherwise idyllic valley due to the recent increase in electrical demand from the city dwellers. These ugly scars across the mountain are an eye sore that divided farms, placed hideous wires and gigantic towers in neighbors’ front yards, and forced the closing of the local trout pond. The towers cross thousands and thousands of acres reaching to power plants in West Virginia that are powered by COAL. Read MERCURY. In Moorefield you can see the plume of smoke from the power plant FIFTY MILES AWAY. Yep, these otherwise intelligent people think that running electric over thousands of acres and burning coal for electric is better than burning some gas. Here are real solutions. Keep your existing car in shape longer so that more cars don’t have to be produced, and finds ways to drive less, such as buying more than two days groceries at one time.  Howdoes this affect farmers?  Eminent domain gives utilities precedence over locals.

Hideous towers now in front yards, placed there in the last year due to increasing power demands from Washington, D.C.  These are only a few miles from Meduseld.

Hideous towers now in front yards, placed there in the last year due to increasing power demands from Washington, D.C. These are only a few miles from Meduseld.

Trees, trees and more trees – One of the biggest fallacies is that animals need forests and trees to survive. Please watch The DVD series Planet Earth narrated by David Attenborough.  He plainly states that grasslands and Savannas feed more animals and wildlife than any other eco-system.

There has recently been a reversal in scientists views towards grazing animals and the environment. Previously it was thought that grazing animals contributed to erosion and desertification. The scientists have come full circle and now advocate returning grazing animals, such a sheep, to areas in order to heal them.

Trees only feed deer and other animals one time a year, such as when the acorn crop comes in. The local DNR keeps food plots open on state hunting preserves, mowing them and planting them with grasses, sorghum, and alfalfa in order to provide deer with feed the rest of the year. We often have deer grazing in the pastures with our horses. To repeat – forests are not adequate to feed wildlife.

Sepp Holzer describes in his book Permaculture what ill-conceived ideas about forestry can do to the environment and animal populations. Austria is known for its splendid mountains covered with pine forests. Trouble is, these forests do not support wildlife and contain no diversity. The pines eventually deplete the soil of its nutrients. He points out that it is more expensive to remove these trees than to sell them, so these trees do not even contribute to a countries available natural resources.

In this area, when areas are timbered, they are frequently replanted with bull pines which the state has even given away for free. These pines are a nightmare to the environment though, depleting the soil of nutrients and acidifying it. There is no diversity of plants and trees to provide sustenance to wildlife. We recently had acres of these bull pines removed, and we replanted hundreds of diverse trees such as chestnut, oak, birch, and maple.

“Free-range” eggs at stores – Many people are not aware that “free range” on the store eggs does not mean the chicken is outside wading in the grass, scrounging for bugs in the earth. It means they get to move around in a building with an open door.  Mother Earth News had an article that demonstrated the nutritional superiority of truly free-ranged chicken eggs over their store counterparts.  This is why it is important to buy eggs locally where chickens get outside and get some vitamin D from sunshine.

Leather and fur products - “He said, but you’ve been wearing leather. I laughed and said, we’re the top of the food chain and yes, you’re the still final one, and I cringed.” Allanis Morrisette

Try yelling “shark” on a beach and see if we are actually the top of the food chain, but the lyrics above sum up the PETA and other environmentalists misguided notion that we should not wear leather and fur products. Of course, the only alternatives are synthetic materials made from petroleum products. The irony is that you generally see the Prius (no-gas) owner advocating wearing petroleum-based shoes and coats. Huh? How many animals died in Exxon Valdez, how many in the BP oil spill? By accounts, entire areas of the Gulf of Mexico are now devoid of life. Dead ocean – how scary is that? And this is a better alternative over leather shoes?

Another consideration is the new understanding about the health benefits of grounding. Turns out those rubber and plastic bottomed shoes don’t allow grounding, while leather shoes do. So leather shoes may actually be good for you.

I’ve written elsewhere about how long-lasting a real fur coat it, so I won’t cover that again. I have even recycled fur coats from thrift shops and recently a popular sewing magazine had an article demonstrating how to do it. But don’t wear that recycled coat into D.C. near a PETA rep., or you’ll be wearing spray paint (petroleum products, fluorocarbons, heavy metals, etc…). Logic does not stand where passion prevails.

NIMBY – (Not in My Backyard) Saving the best for last, I see this as the most pervasive and dangerous of the errors.

This usually manifests in the form of conservation easements or covenants. Someone purchases a piece of land, decides they no longer want to own it, but still want to control it for perpetuity. So they place it under a conservation easement or under covenants and have inflexible and narrow-minded views about other peoples’ lifestyles. Their mentality is “my way or the highway” and if they have a little money they are even worse, like a new aristocracy, willing to throw their financial status around to make sure that everyone else has to live  life by their standards or life philosophy.

Let’s break this down a bit. Looking first at the private property rights and ownership. If you own a business, but someone else has unlimited jurisdiction to tell you how to run that business, then in effect, you are not the owner, but merely the person with  legal responsibilities.

One local covenant we have become familiar with mandates that NO ANIMALS MAY BE RAISED ON THE PROPERTY and NO HUNTING. An eleven acre property with a no-animal restriction? The enforcer of this covenant sits on over 100 acres, yet they do not want to hear any animals – chickens, sheep goats, etc. This is agrarian, rural West Virginia and they don’t want their neighbors to have a dozen chickens? With such an extremist position, it prohibits having a dog, restocking the pond with fish – would this include a gold-fish bowl?

What this means is that a potential purchaser for the eleven acres would not be able to use their own property for reasonable, even non-commercial raising of their own eggs or meat. It means paying for eleven acres that someone else gets to control. It isn’t even American.

I wonder if the people who wrote these prohibitive covenants really considered the long-term outcome of their nonresilient stance. If people can’t grow food on their own properties, it forces them to use gas to go to stores, supporting CAFO operations, and the import of foods from long distances that have to be trucked in on increasingly congested highways. Is this really their goal? I doubt it.

And consider who they might be running off! We’d like to have nice neighbors. But people such as Sepp Holzer, or Eliot Colemen could never live nearby due to these restrictions. Holzer has built as close to paradise as you can get on earth – on the side of a mountain where he has multiple ponds, diverse plant life, and livestock. Holzer is world-famous for his permaculture, gives lessons across the globe, and provides consulting for restoring habitats on both hemispheres. YET HE WOULD NOT QUALIFY TO BE OUR NEIGHBOR UNDER THE COVENANTS.

Fortunately, our farm predates the local subdivisions and is unrestricted. But it seems like ever encroaching authoritarian people will now decide what kind of neighbors we can have, and will gradually change the fabric of this rural farm community. It’s disheartening that the dream of having a piece of the American Pie can be deprived to families because someone else has the gall to think they can tell other people how to live.