Urban and suburban residents who move out to the country have specific visions of how they want to set up their homestead, and why those things are important to them. Some are ìpreppersî who want to make sure they’re ready for whatever disaster scenario may come along. Others are tired of eating from ìindustrial agricultureî and hope to grow natural, organic food for their families. Still more want to reduce their environmental footprint or get away from the urban rat race.For each type of homesteader, there is a vast number of online communities, books and podcasts. With so much information available, it is easy for someone starting on a new piece of land to get caught in ìanalysis paralysis.î Just look at the homestead garden. Do you use ìSquare Foot Gardening,î ìGaia’s Gardenî or row cropping? Will you use any hybrid seed, or will you only use heirloom varieties?Every method has vocal advocates and detractors. On the Internet forums, the controversies inevitably come down to a particular homestead or small farm that is ìholier than thou,î or perhaps ìgreener than thou.î A homesteader may feel superior because they have no fences at all for their free-range, pastured chickens. But the coop-and-run grower doesn’t lose as many hens to death by coyote.A new homesteader or someone expanding into a new species of livestock may end up putting off expansion far too long because they want to make sure what they do is just right. But in homesteading and country life, the mantra is ìthe perfect is the enemy of the good;î otherwise you’ll spend all the money in your account to make sure your pigs have the best shelters, feeders and waterers. But you will have to go to the store to buy bacon. You can go broke bringing in the fanciest kelp-based vegan fertilizers to grow your ìbeyond organicî heirloom tomatoes, but grasshoppers don’t respect your values.But doing ìgoodî work and making any steps at all toward food liberty and regenerating soils is a good thing, right? After all, the regenerative agriculture community is all in this together, right? And part of living in the country is knowing your neighbors have your back if livestock get out or you have a calf bit by a rattlesnake, right?Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like it.The most painful insult in organic, small-scale agriculture is the term ìgreenwashing.î It is a word that implies the company or farm is spending more time and effort claiming to be environmentally responsible in its advertising and social marketing than the actual practices. It is a term that’s been hurled at hard-working small farms in the region, with often disastrous results. In some cases around the country, the war of words has escalated to people reporting other farms to departments of health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture; or most catastrophically for a farm here in Colorado, the Department of Water Resources.Here in El Paso County, these ìgreener than thouî wars have resulted in the cancellation of the Regenerative Agriculture Conference this year. At least one popular small farm is experiencing significant legal fees after someone filed an anonymous complaint on them with the DWR.These conflicts within the community come during what several established farms have called ìthe worst year for market gardens and micro-farms in decadesî because of the combination of a cold, late spring, huge hail storms, hot summer temperatures and unusually high pest, insect pressure.With the atmospheric and emotional storm clouds gathering over the small farms in the region, the normally happy ñ- perhaps ìhippieî ñ- attitude of the local organic farmers has taken a dark turn in the past couple months. Venetucci Farm south of Colorado Springs was suddenly closed in July because of water pollution in the Fountain Creek watershed. ìIs it worth complaining about the hail if everything is already a disaster?î asked Yosef Camire of Peyton’s Ahavah Farm, which had their crops destroyed by storms four times so far this year. On Facebook, Katie Belle Miller of Heritage Belle Farm wrote, ìWe’re giving up on the market garden this year,î and she signed off with the hashtag ì#FarmingIsHard.îOther promising new micro-farms are closing their entire operations; at least one family planning to start a small farm in El Paso County told me they are now looking at moving out of Colorado. Here, at the Gray Area Farm homestead, we’ve been spared most of the hail (so far), but continue to struggle coaxing veggies out of the now too-hot soil after the long too-cold spring. And, as hard as it is to believe with constant 100-degree temperatures, the first killing frosts are bearing down on us all too quickly.It makes you understand why the Anasazi cliff dwelling builders of Mesa Verde literally walked away from this region so many years ago. How can a small farm, or their customers and supporters, avoid getting too discouraged?The key is to look forward. ìThe best garden you ever had is the one you’re planning for next yearî is a common line in hobby farming. Maybe the atmosphere is getting all its hail out of its system for the next five years. Maybe you really are more stubborn than the grasshoppers. Maybe water law will change some day, and you’ll be able to legally sell your veggies.Maybe.Even in the best of years, ìmaybeî is what farmers and ranchers have to hang on to during the tough days. This year, maybe ìmaybeî won’t be enough. So, let’s get the term ìgreenwashingî out of our vocabulary for the rest of the year. Let’s stop badmouthing each other’s not-green-enough practices on the forums. And maybe the regenerative agriculture and organic farm movement in Colorado will survive to next year.
|Editorís note: ìThe New Falcon Heraldî will be following the homesteading and local food movement from the point of view of one reporter, Jason Gray, who moved to 40 acres near Rush to create a partially self-sufficient homestead. The Pasture-Raised Life will appear monthly.