An alternative economy of smallholding

It is a very wet afternoon so we have been driven inside to get on with jobs that will save us from a soaking.  I have been sewing more products for my Mother’s Day collection.  Sewing always give me a chance to think and today I found myself dwelling on the economics of smallholding.  Smallholding can mean many different things but to us it is a way of making income from horticultural endeavours on a 10 acre plot.  It is however more than as it is a way of life and with it comes a way of thinking.  It is a direct and very real connection with the land and this has given us all a insight into the workings of Mother Nature.

plant sale prep 2 002On our plot we grow cut flowers, potted herbs and willow.  It is possible to sell all of these in their immediate form but on Hazelbank we have a strategy of adding value.  This allows us to be creative with our crops and offer a much wider service to the islanders as a result.

If we concentrate on the crops as yield first we have considerably extended our season with the introduction of willow in 2013.  Willow is an incredibly versatile crop and we are focusing our activities of making willow wreaths and garlands.  Coppicing in November and December makes Christmas decorations an obvious place to start but we have also added wedding and funeral wreaths to our portfolio.  We extend the cut flower season by drying them to use as part of our added value strategy.

willow first crop 003

This added value strategy ensure that we have an income all year round from what is an, essentially, seasonal smallholding.  Making crafts that use our dried products is something we have done for years.  We make a range of scented crafts and sell through local shops, markets and online through our etsy shop.  We add value to our cut flowers through the season by offering a full flower service, Buds and Blooms, but with an emphasis on sustainability.  We don’t use any chemicals in our growing year and we use as many natural fibres as possible in place of traditional florist sundries that are notoriously slow to biodegrade.   Islanders are keen to buy from us as the flowers are grown here and we do not have any waste.  The florist industry is a terribly wasteful one and all our waste is green and therefore compostable.

cut flowers bucket 005

catalogue 037 [lemon candle1]In 2014 we are extending our floral service to offer wedding favours  with a strong natural theme and also our own dried petal confetti.  One of our favourite themes for wedding favours is seeds.  They come packaged in a variety of recycled and biodegradable ways and allow guests to plant them after the wedding in memory of the lovely day they shared with the bride and groom.  From 2014 this will include wildflower seed bombs that can be thrown onto prepared soil and below dry stone walls where they will erupt into beautiful patches of native wildflowers which are so important for our insect life.

So, you can see the thinking that goes on as we consider various ways to add value to our crops.  This, for me, is the economics of smallholding.  It is not an easy economic model but we are constantly researching new ideas.  Currently we are watching the excellent work being carried out in Ireland on a smallholding run by Mark Boyle.  Mark is an extraordinary man who lived without money for some years and champions the free economy.  Of course, ultimately, our smallholding provides us with food and wood (for fuel) so the family is also saving by not spending so much on essential goods.  That must be factored into the economy as well.  Mark is developing a model of shared community ownership on his smallholding and our island is just beginning to shape a policy and practice that enables a shared membership based economy.

I consider it to be an exciting time in the evolution of our species.  We might just be learning that we can not continue to ravage our planet and then expect it to offer us all that we need.  We might also be learning that money is not the goal it once was and that community and sharing has a higher potential place in our on going existence.  For those of you interested in different models of economic deliverance I would recommend Mark Boyle’s book ‘The Moneyless Manifesto’ as a starting place.  Mark always makes me realise that I can think bigger and brighter and let us be honest this planet needs people like him. He is currently raising money through an initiative crowd funding campaign to allow the building of  an enterprise that allows him to offer free food, courses and even beer!  It is genius in conception and he is well on his way to reaching his target.  If you can help just click on the link.  The notion of a free economy might seem radical and problematic but the more time I spend investigating such notions the more it makes sense.  I would happily teach someone to sew and then they can teach me how to make a basket.  I think this is what will dominate our own island community thinking and, as a family, we are right behind it.  I think these perspectives are vital as we continue to provide a future for our children. 

Speak very soon. xx

teacups 012 [pincushion1b]

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