Principle 3 of permaculture is ‘obtain a yield’, with the proverb ‘you can’t work on an empty stomach’. It’s designed to ensure that we’re gaining useful rewards in return for the work we’re doing. These rewards, or yields, can be anything that you deem helpful for your desired life – whether that’s money or a tasty breakfast with a mountain view.
I’ve been learning a lot about regenerative agriculture at Henbant so I’ve had a think about the yields obtained here using these practices.
Just a handful of terrestrial soil contains more organisms than there are people on the planet. Our soil is our largest water filter and storage tank, plus it regulates carbon dioxide and cycles nutrients for all forms of life1 – pretty important stuff then!
Soil works really hard for us and yet our conventional farming systems don’t have a great track record of looking after it. In fact nearly half of our most productive soil has disappeared in the world in the last 150 years 2 .
Today we have loads of great farmers leading the way in regenerative agriculture and practices that build soil, rather than deplete it.
What’s regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture describes the farming and grazing practices that reverse climate change by building soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity3.
Soil may by easy to damage, but it’s also easy to build. Some simple examples include no-dig gardening, compost-building and a focus on perennial planting.
This week at Henbant we’ve been building beds in the market garden and they’re so inviting I want to lay in them myself. Some of the practices we’ve used to build the soil include inoculating it by adding our home compost (full of active micro-organisms), aerating it to help the soil structure and disturbing it as little as possible when weeding (using tarp to starve the weeds of light and tools that don’t dig up the top soil). We also NEVER tread on the beds!
This all leads to the best environment for soil to build and plants to grow, I can’t wait to see them (and eat them).
Vegetables and edibles
This week we harvested the first vegetable of the year – a radish! A small taste of what will hopefully be a huge bounty from the market and kitchen gardens here at Henbant. Vegetables are a great way of stuffing ourselves with healthy nutrients but what if the food we grow can also help our soil? Now that would make sense.
There’s a big movement towards agroforestry and planting trees or shrubs (perennials) rather than annual plants. Perennials put permanent roots in the soil, leaving it un-disturbed and providing a constant supply of beneficial life/nutrients. If you plant perennials that also provide you with food it’s a double win. Grow food that both you and your livestock can eat and you’ve hit the jackpot!
An example of this can be seen at Ridgedale farm4. They have a chestnut forest which is planted in a way that still allows you to harvest the field beneath. The tree roots benefit the soil and the canopy provides chestnuts that can be used to make flour or feed the pigs on site – triple win from one plant.
Making a profit
When we talk about designing for the planet first we’re not always that great at considering a profit for ourselves, but for the industry to change we need smarter ways to make money. Farming currently has the highest suicide rate of any profession and if you look at how difficult it is to make a living from it with conventional methods you can see why it leads to so much distress and so few people wanting to do it.
Richard Perkins (of Ridgedale farm) has made it his mission to demonstrate how to “make a good living and live the good life whilst being of benefit to the whole”5. He’s demonstrating no-nonsense practices in regenerative agriculture and permaculture that potentially allows you to turn a profit within 6 months, not 20 years – enabling a new generation to step into farming. If it sounds too good to be true just check out his videos, you’ll be amazed at how simple it can be (see references below).
Camping and eggs
Two of the profitable businesses I’ve been involved with most at Henbant is egg sales and camp sites – both synchronized with land management.
The 150 chickens here are pasture-raised which means they reap the benefits of eating insects straight from the grass, the grass benefits from their scratching and droppings and we benefit from the nutritious and tasty egg.
The campsite is situated amongst trees which are harvested to keep the campers warm or to build the structures their staying in. Trees are constantly being planted here and we’ve put hundreds in the ground this month.
If you’re lucky enough to get to stay at Henbant you can wake up to a sunrise shining through the mountains, walk through the trees robed with moss and greet the chickens that have just laid the eggs for the delicious breakfast you’re about to eat. That’s one yield I could obtain again and again and again.
There are 12 permaculture principles and I’ll be exploring one each month throughout 2021. For more information and personal stories around them visit permacultureprinciples.com
For camping, glamping, veg boxes and getting involved.