Stefan Sobkowiak is in NZ for a month from March 9th giving talks from Northland to Otago. Here he offers some valuable insights taken from his forthcoming book. They are addressed to those of us who don’t yet have land but are keen to develop productive land based occupations and enterprises. There is more than one way to get access to land, and quickly begin earning a living while learning valuable skills.
Learning on the farm follows a square root curve
You never stop learning but they don’t call it a learning curve for nothing. It’s not a straight line. There is a steep part and it happens the moment you step your feet on a piece of land that you are the steward of. In the early stages it’s probably better if you are not the landowner. You will have enough to learn about, so don’t add the burden of making mortgage payments.
Don’t buy the land
Jean-Francois, one of my early interns was given two acres of land to use. It belonged to the parish priest who didn’t want to see it revert to forest. It was at the old field successional stage with some shrubs starting. Jean-Francois put a fence around it and ran his first flock of turkeys.
After the first season there was a bunch of dying shrubs and an improved pasture. After the second season there was a beautiful sward of grass that the turkeys loved and grew very well on. He only stayed in that area 2 years.
Jean-Francois left the fence in place and the owner was thrilled with the results. He learned how to convert an old field to a vibrant pasture without any machinery. He deepened his understanding of how to raise turkeys on pasture. He direct marketed them all and always ran out of birds to sell.
He established credibility in the area about his ability to manage land and landscapes and would easily have obtained other pieces of land to use rent free if he wanted. Perhaps he could have charged for his services of transforming abandoned old fields to valuable pasture or hay fields.
The key is a track record. Start small, be faithful, do a great job and the land offers will seek you out. A little sign wouldn’t hurt if you were looking for land. Use your first piece of land as a poster. Free land awaits you, you just have to know how to ask.
Rented land is another option. A couple of my former students are running a very successful organic CSA vegetable farm on rented land (www.fermetournesol.qc.ca).
They’ve been there for over 10 years on land owned by an organic grain grower. They didn’t need a huge farm just 5 ha (12 acres), enough to rotate crops in and use compost cover crops to greatly reduce pest, weed and disease.
They don’t have money tied up in mortgage payments, they are close to their markets. They worked the farm and paid themselves a salary from the first year.
This is an example of a thoughtful plan, well executed followed by diligent work. Now they can go where ever they choose, confident they know how to make land pay a salary. We need more good stewards of the land. It’s an attitude and whether you rent land or own it, it shows. So consider renting, stewarding and showing you know how to care for land and landowners will seek you out.
Find the events nearest you at www.beyondorganicnztour.com if you’d like to meet Stefan and learn more about his Permaculture Orchard design system and creative ways to earn a living on the land.
Jean-Martin Fortier – The Market Gardener
Here’s a short compilation I created to get you started
Feb 5, Update: I found this video of the energetic, inspiring Joel Salatin talking about exactly this: