The farm evolution revolution continues

And here we are at the start (ok, I know, it’s now March) of another year. Another year of uncertainty due to Covid, and further geopolitical conflict with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The IPCC also just released another report about the climate crisis which doesn’t exactly read hopeful. But what is one to do? Curl up into a little ball of pain and hope to wake up to a world where everyone just gets along and nature is back in balance without having to shrug humanity off the face of the earth? Yeah, exactly.

Back in late December (almost feels like a lifetime ago now), Skyler and I sat down to have our farm planning meeting for 2022. We think and plan very differently, so it’s a necessary meeting which involves lots of lists and numbers. First off, we looked at the final numbers for 2021 and figured out what worked and what didn’t. Over the past few years, we have grown our sheep flock so that revenue from lamb meat, yarn and lambskin sales now exceeds that from the vegetable garden. Meanwhile, the labour costs (both in terms of hiring, and toll on my body) for the vegetable garden have grown. Running an 18 week vegetable CSA from late June to October, ensuring there are enough vegetables to harvest from June to late August (when drought and floods have been most intense), involves the weekly seeding, transplant and harvest of lots of greens and legumes (peas, beans), which is super labour intensive. Often there isn’t enough labour left over to ensure the longer season crops (hot crops, cucurbits, various root vegetables) will be successful. So we made the decision for 2022 to change the vegetable CSA to run only for 8 weeks in September and October. This frees up at least 3 labour days per week from June to August to ensure the longer season crops are better maintained (i.e. weeded) and also to process higher value products, like our sheep fleeces. I hope to be doing a lot more first pickings and washings of fleece so we can bring more to the fibre mills to spin into beautiful yarns.

Freeing up labour from the vegetable garden also means we can access more land for sheep grazing, as we bring the flock for portions of the year to Skyler’s parents’ farm, Skyhill, to graze. This will involve multiple daily trips to his parents’ back pastures, to ensure the sheep are grazing well and staying safe from predators. When we used to be able to access Skyhill by walking through our in-between neighbour’s farm, things were easier. But with land use changes happening there, that avenue is now cut off. At least for 2022. Having access to more acres of pasture at Skyhill, means we kept all the ewes born in 2021, greatly increasing our future flock potential, as well as the work of our lambing season. The first lambs of 2022 were born on January 20! We still have a handful of ewes who need to give birth, but the bulk of the flock has finished, and we have a barn full of leaping lambs 🙂 By the time the whole flock goes out on pasture in May (fingers crossed!), we will be moving around 100 sheep on pasture for the 2022 grazing season. The flock size is finally large enough to have a quicker positive impact on the land with their rotational grazing, so our overall ability to regenerate soils just got a whole lot better.

While I certainly love growing vegetables, I love hanging out with sheep even more, as well as working with textiles, so this evolution of Black Sheep Farm to come even closer to the original sheep dream, is very exciting for me. And I’m certainly not giving up vegetables, or garden space. But more beds will be put into longer season cover crops, with the continued aim of improving soil and increasing biodiversity. I look forward to growing more flowers, to attract more beneficial insects, and just put a smile on everyone’s faces. And there’s a possibility of sowing a small crop of winter wheat in the fall in collaboration with Ironwood Organics which has selected for a line of ‘Flood Fife’ from their Red Fife crops, which would be planted into the section of the vegetable field which regularly experiences spring flooding. So many exciting possibilities!

We are also in the process of planning for conversion of our rather soggy hay field into a silvopasture system. This will involve planting rows of quick growing trees (like poplar and willow), which add in more windbreaks, and hopefully soak up some excess water with perennial tree growth. This will likely be a multi year planting process, so stay tuned for callouts for tree planting volunteers ;P Even if planting trees doesn’t dry up the field to improve its pasture growing ability, we figure that planting more trees in general, is always a win.

Black Sheep Farm is just one 40 acre farm; a miniscule speck in the global farming system. But it’s the one place we can influence right now, so we choose more complex living systems, even if that’s harder to understand and messier to look at. This is the kind of chaos I can live with and embrace. Not that of humanity’s selfishness, greed and need for control. So while my heart mourns so much of what is happening in the world, both near and far, it will keep nurturing as much life and bounty as it can hold. Which is infinite? Right? I can only hope.

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