You Can’t Start “Organic”

A 4 lb. bag of "lawn fertilizer" is neither natural nor organic because a suburban lawn is neither natural nor organic.

All the rage today is the talk about “organic” gardening and farming.  We hear talk about how in the past, people didn’t use chemicals and how we need to return to their more responsible ways.  This is true.

Unfortunately, you can’t up and START to farm organically.  Organic farming requires that an entire farm be in place so that the farm itself produces the resources it needs.  For example, to fertilize “organically” you need animal manure.  To have animal manure you need animals.  To have animals you need feed, which means you have to buy feed before you can ever fertilize with manure.  At $8+ per 50lbs., animal feed is expensive.  However, it is a necessary expense to start your form…and it isn’t going to be grown organically.  If it is, you won’t be able to afford to feed it to animals.

You’re not going to garden organically in a suburb.  Yes, things may be “organic” on your property, but you are dependent on a whole system of non-organic production to get your supplies to the local garden shop for you.  It may be cute to say “this is organic”, but you’re not helping any of the problems caused by modern suburban culture.  It’s the centralization of population and the transport of products to supply that population that causes all the problems.  Don’t imagine “environmentally friendly” products or methods are really helping anything.  This is straining our gnats but swallowing a camel, as Jesus said.

To start an organic farm, you have to create a conversion plan by which you slowly establish a self-supporting farm.  It starts with animals and compost piles, where you create your soil and fertilizers.  You will not profit on this new farm and you must have a long-term vision, thinking of enjoying a beautiful organic farm in, say, 5-7 years.   As your manure piles grow, your gardens will improve.  As your gardens improve, your grocery bill will decrease.  As you grocery bill decreases, your energy bills will decrease (no need to heat and cool food).  As your energy and grocery bills decrease your need from cash income will decrease.  As you need for cash income decreases, you can pull back from the business world and devote more time to managing your farm.  As you work your farm more, everything will start to come together.  After a few years, your gardens will increase in size and you will be able to get a field ready for your first try at wheat or corn.  Your first crop will probably be sacrficed for your own learning and setting up your equipment to grow, harvest and process the crop.   After another year, you’ll be ready for your first crop of grain…and if you succeed, you’ll be done buying animal fee.  Then, you’ll be in business and ready to start talking about “organic” farming.

 It’s a multi-year process that requires the cooperation of an entire family.  It can be done, but not without sacrfice.  Those who desire it, get it.   It should be obvious that borrowing $500k would never allow you to farm organically.  You’re not trying to build a suburban life in the country and you won’t be able to afford both.  If you want the comforts of the suburb, stay there.  If you count the difficulties of the country worth the benefits, then you have a shot.  It’s a life of simplicity and it requires that one seek satisfaction from religion rather than food and pleasure.  It is an austere life that requires mental and physical toughness.  You have to count the costs, though, and make sure your idea of farm life is realistic and not childish.   Farmers don’t sit around pushing little girls in dresses on tree swings and making ice-cream as if this is the Garden of Eden.  It’s constant work with great benefits–but the benefits pertain to virtue and wisdom, not satisfy the desires of the flesh.

Organic farming requires a complete system of farm management that, in the past, was taken for granted.  Today, you’re going to have to re-create that system and it will take a few years to do.  You should enter into farming with an external source of income because there will be investments needed.  However, if you work hard and maintain a plan to slowly wean yourself off of products brought in from outside the farm and off the need for cash income, you will enjoy the good life…or at least your children will.


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5 Responses to You Can’t Start “Organic”

  1. Maryanne says:

    I believe that although you will not have an “organic” farm strictly speaking from the start, you can do so much from the outset without using chemical inputs.

    Even in the city, you can start raised bed gardens. Have your soil tested and then add any natural, mineral inputs that you are missing.

    Some cities allow a few chickens in your yard. If the zoning laws won’t allow it, you can start raising rabbits for both food and manure. I have rabbits in my yard. They are being raised in third world countries for low cost protein. They can eat a good number of plants. They also require hay and some grain.

    I raised my children in the North of Ontario on a small farm. I worked but we had sheep, goats, chickens and pigs. I also had a large garden. Even then we were not completely self sufficient, but everything you can do to decrease chemical inputs and have fresh food at a low cost is important.

    More than ever I believe people should start growing what they can….start now and don’t worry if it is “organic” by definition. It will be natural and healthy. Our economy is very precarious. Supermarkets have at best 3 days of food stocked. If there was a run on food for any reason, that would not be the case.

    Families should start a little “farm”, even in the city for no other reason than it is good for children to learn about plants, where our food comes from. It is good for children to have chores and responsibilities. They will have so much joy from seeing the seeds they planted grow. It is a beautiful thing for children to take their seed packets to church and have them blessed by the priest…even to have the priest come over and bless their garden patch when it is ready.

    The learning and the benefits of fresh..non-chemical food gardens go on and on.

    in JMJ Maryanne from Ontario

    • villapacis says:

      Thank you Maryanne.

      This is largely my point…that all the “organic” fuss in the suburb isn’t realistic. You cannot START organic, which assumes a whole chain of pre-existing conditions and supplies.

  2. Jessica B says:

    We have been enjoying reading of your experiences on your family farm. If you have time to share your thoughts on a few questions, I’d be ever so appreciative. Keeping in mind that my questions pertain to setting up and maintaining a self-sufficent family farm with a family that values most highly a devout Catholic life lived out in simplicity and peace.

    Okay, so $500K is too much to mortgage but what IS okay to mortgage? Anything? Obviously, what Dad currently brings home in a paycheck is a big variable here. But, the goal is that Dad doesn’t have to leave the farm every day and can wean the family off of the need for the cash, to the largest extent possible, and do this as soon as possible. If you lack the cash to buy the farm flat out, what is reasonable, in your opinion?

    If you were to consider a family farm, would you look for raw land or buy an existing farm? New farm or old farm? Both seem to have their benefits? What should a buyer look for first and foremost?

    How much land is ideal for a self-sufficient family? 10…20…40, +++ acres?

    The extension office in our state is very active and seems to offer a lot of help. So, we will be turning there for advice as well. I am pleased that the Scriptures offer so much farming wisdom and I thank you for encouraging us to look there for advice. Outside of Scripture and our state extension office, are there any other resources you recommend to learn how to set up and enjoy “the good life”?

    Thank you for sharing your ideas and experiences!

    • villapacis says:

      Self-sufficiency doesn’t require much. It’s the desire to use farming as a means of earning cash that requires all the mess of modern farming. We are on 15 acres, but that is more than we need. If you look at a popular book like Seymour’s “The Self-Sufficient Life”, you’ll see a 5 acre plan that is as simple as you can get. We maintain something similar to that, and then have additional pasture and wooded land beyond that, along with a fishing pond. You don’t need a 100 acre ranch to live a self-sufficient life. It’s so much easier than everyone thinks. The real need is time to establish the farm, not money or area.

      My advice would be to buy land and put an inexpensive house on it that can be filled out/added onto over time. As I’ve said, we originally put a modular home on our property that cost only $125k. The house had a floor plan we knew would work well for us and the second floor was unfinished. This year, we added a 900sqft. barn, are finishing the second floor and are re-designing the house to serve the farm. We ripped out all of the original cabinets, flooring, etc.., and rural-ized it. Of course, your financial situation determines what you can do. We wanted no debt and were patient to develop the farm slowly. Any time we start something new, we start with none of the equipment–we do it totally crudely until we understand exactly what the challenges are. Then we can intelligently obtain the equipment and supplies we need to get the job done–and that as simply as possible–not necessarily as cheaply as possible. It’s not about money, but much more. I think that’s the wisest plant and the only one I would recommend. If you borrow and buy before you know what you’re doing, you’re going to mortgage mistakes and eventually have to buy the right stuff anyway. I say be patient and do everything right the first time.

      The best place to learn is on the farm. The reason I say that is because if your goal is Catholic self-sufficiency, the extension offices and books will probably not tell you what you’re looking for. For example, we’re not trying to raise award-winning animals to win shows so that we can charge more to breed them. We’re not in farming for cash. We’re in farming for peace of mind, simplicity, humility, etc.. This affects the goals of what we do and makes most advice useless.

  3. Jessica B says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply. So, your advice for the novice farming family, seeking Catholic self-sufficiency, would be to start from scratch, building an inexpensive home to keep costs low and avoid debt…correct? Would you build yourself or contract everything? We’ve been looking at kit homes from ShelterKit dot com but we’ve decided nothing at this point. Also, my mother is the head sales rep for an upscale custom home builder in our area. She wants us to build with them but doesn’t understand our desire for simplicity. She reminds us of “resale” and in no way shares our vision. We will not be able to do this on a purely cash basis at this point. Land is $150,000 to $200,000 for 5-20 acres…with no improvements. Add a well and septic for another $30,000, foundation, home, driveway, finishing, etc. I think sometimes it would be better to just find an existing home and modify it.

    You stated we should “be patient and do everything right the first time” so I’m curious to know if all of the changes you are making to your home were a part of your long term plan when you chose your home or if you wish you would have started out differently. Ripping out this and that seems wasteful and costly and I’ve spent most of my marriage doing that in other homes. I simply couldn’t bear to live through it again. Doing it right the first time sounds like good advice. I guess we need to be patient and understand that we won’t be able to know exactly how we will live and work on the farm until we are doing just that…living and working on the farm.

    This is such a hopeful time for our family. We are enjoying your blog posts as we see your family a few steps ahead of ours on the road to “devout and dignified self-sufficiency”. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. These posts of yours add nourishment to something the Lord long ago planted in us. We are getting there…we are getting there.

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