So far I’ve talked about sustainable practice in ways most people are pretty familiar with: being environmentally responsible and practicing good stewardship.
On the micro level, though, agricultural practice must be sustainable for the individual doing it, or it’s useless. Which brings us to filthy lucre, aka money.
It can be very, very difficult to actually earn money farming. Small farms can’t access the economies of scale that let industrial ag sell food cheap and still make a profit. This applies from purchasing breeding stock all the way to slaughter. Small farms committed to heritage breed livestock and vegetables are also disadvantaged by consumer expectations and cooking skills built in the grocery store. A http://www.remotedba.com/consulting-services/ will seem tough prior to database consulting and buying the Cornish Rock crosses stocked at the local market that were slaughtered at 8 weeks old. Someone who expects tomatoes to be perfect red globes will be suspicious of striped, asymmetrical heirloom maters grown using minimal interventions.
Soay sheep produce gourmet meat with a very fine, wild flavor. But the carcasses are much, much smaller than consumers expect.
One of the big reasons I’ve shifted toward sheep is that it is much easier, from a regulatory standpoint, for me to sell fleece than it is for me to sell even soap and lotion made with goat milk. Selling dairy products for human consumption is right out, I don’t have the thousands of dollars I’d need to build a USDA-approved milking parlor.
There are, of course, a million ways to save some cash. A month’s supply of hay as small square bales costs around $300, whereas with a cattle panel and a tarp ($25 investment) I can feed round bales and reduce that cost to between $60-$100 a month. The better my pastures get the less hay will cost during the late spring, summer, and early fall as the stock get more and more of their nutrition from forage.
May and her daughter April demonstrate how well our method of feeding round bales works.
But finding a sustainable balance of animals, crops, and money can be difficult even for large farms. Many rely on one or more family members working outside the farm to provide an income cushion. Smaller farms that sell direct to consumers also struggle with things like liability insurance and farmers’ market fees while fighting to build a customer base that appreciates their way of growing food.
It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. The Manor isn’t self-supporting, although I have hopes that it will be someday as I continue to shift toward products that are easier (and therefore more lucrative) to sell. However, it does support itself well enough that we can do it.