To call this just another blog about sustainable living and ecological food production would be essentially correct. What makes this slightly different is that we have 160 acres, a crumbling infrastructure, no money and, on a practical level, are inexperienced. What we do have are many theories, some wild ideas and a lot of ambition... in fact, some might say we're full of it.
Some are born into farming, some acquire farms and others have farming thrust upon them... between the two of us we cover all of those. So who are we? Well, as much as we'd like to remain anonymous, our lovely hosts at Permaculture magazine won't let us. So (in no particular order), we are Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green.
The move to fulltime farming is a fairly recent and major change in our lives but it was not one we undertook on a whim. As documentary film makers for the BBC we got to travel the world having grand adventures and were reasonably well paid for the privilege. Other than enduring the general stress and shallowness of media life, things were pretty good. So why the change?
Changing Our Lives
In 2007 we were planning a film about dolphins or something when someone sent us a link to a lecture by Prof. Albert Bartlett. An hour or so later our lives were heading in a very different direction. Before, the idea of watching an octogenarian academic explain the implications of the exponential function for over an hour would have seemed strange to us; but afterwards, the idea of changing our lives based on what he said seemed perfectly rational. That brilliant old codger had really shaken us awake with his simple arithmetic.
What we had been alerted to were essentially the limits to growth and the realization that they were coming in our lifetimes. Flying the globe and filming wildlife for pretty TV programs suddenly seemed to have a less than rosy future... so we planned our escape.
We figured that in a time of escalating energy costs - and resulting economic turmoil – society could survive without expensive nature documentaries. Food, on the other hand, is something that will always be in demand. For us the choice was simple – return to the family farm and learn how to be farmers.
Like most people who learn of peak oil et al, we had an overwhelming desire to tell everyone about it and warn all our friends. If you've felt the same, I'm sure you've also discovered you rapidly become unpopular at dinner parties. To avoid losing all our friends we decided the best thing was to make one last film for the BBC and hope that it could work as a basic introduction to the subject for anyone wanting to listen. 'A Farm for the Future' was a 'transitional' film in many respects; making it allowed us to spend a whole year looking at the challenges we would face in taking on an inefficient and oil-dependent farm.
Permaculture – 'unadulterated sensibleness '
When we started the production we were rather fixated on the scale of the problems ahead but as the filming went on we became progressively more optimistic about the potential solutions. We hadn't even heard of permaculture at the beginning but, by the end, its sheer unadulterated sensibleness had elevated permaculture (and it ecological friends) clearly into the 'most likely to succeed' position. The big problem as ever is how to get farming from where it is now to where it needs to be – that can't be done with a video camera.
So here we are; covered in mud and smelling faintly of dung.
When we left television, most of our colleagues thought we were mad (sad to say many of them have since lost their jobs), now we're on the farm with our new ideas of ecologically sound food production, most farmers think we're mad. Generally we can live with that but we do have one (or two) small problems; an ageing father and an ageing uncle who still hold full power of veto on any changes we want to make on the farm and – putting it very mildly – they don't like change!
We think the way the farm works requires a major rethink if it is to survive these interesting times but the Old Boys (as they will henceforth be called) disagree. They still think red diesel and synthetic fertilizer will be around forever, they're not interested in soil compaction, they think trees (although pretty) are the enemy of productivity and, to them, the hedge-flail is the best thing since sliced bread (curiously, sliced bread isn't something they agree with).
Farm scale permaculture is almost unheard of in the UK but we're convinced it will work. We'd love to throw ourselves into the challenge acre at a time but we clearly have a few years of frustration ahead of us as we scrabble around conducting experiments in field corners and hedgerows. That said, every new experiment will be exciting and hopefully as the results accumulate we will be building a master plan for the future.
On the agenda this year are: pastured poultry, worm seeding, mycorrhizal pasture restoration, tree fodder, medicinal livestock herbage, big-time composting, honey, timber framing for the unskilled, compost teas, some weird trees, the dung beetle campaign, cobbing, primitive sheep breeding, wind-powered water management, sheepdog training, hedgerow booze, squabbing pigeons, hugel beds (thanks Sepp!), weed eating, building soil carbon, fox economics, a snail farm, the treebog, edible roofs, permasculpture, mushroom growing, lots of stuff made from bits of bicycles, learning to scavenge....etc etc. And, of course, a few ranting diatribes about the Old Boys.
Permaculture magazine online will be posting regular articles from Rebecca and Tim - watch this space!
Read Rebecca's article about the challenges to conventional farming and how permaculture can help overcome them in Permaculture magazine 60 downloadable HERE. (Print version has now sold out.) Please subscribe!