the smallholding part 2

In a smallholding, monoculture is on the scale of square yards.  It may mean that once the Mexican bean beetles find your bush beans they will infest that entire planting; on the other hand if the gardener is a judicious practitioner of succession planting it is unlikely to mean the complete failure of that crop, and it virtually never means bankruptcy.

Two people may build a cow shed, chicken house, garden shed, or quarter mile of fence without undue time and effort.

When four cows are kept in one pasture or one lounging barn the manure accumulations are manageable without heavy equipment.  When population density exceeds a certain level the land itself is overburdened by wastes.

Managed rotational grazing improves pasture, increases its productivity, adds topsoil, etc.

Jobs that can be accomplished with hand tools often require heavy machinery when we increase the scale beyond that of the smallholding.  Five pounds of potatoes can be conveniently peeled with a paring knife; five hundred pounds make us think we need a machine.  Fifty square feet of garden can be turned with a garden fork; for five hundred this seems heavy labor; with five thousand we need a rototiller.  Fifty thousand square feet – that is, a garden one hundred feet by five hundred feet – make us think we need a tractor and plow.  To justify the expense we increase our plot tenfold and market the excess.  The expense in time and money for marketing makes more sense if we multiply the size of our garden by ten again, in which case we need to upsize our equipment once more.  Paying for the bigger equipment requires us to take out a loan, repayment of which requires another upscale in size to increase our profits, and so we go on, ad infinitum.  The small holder is better off if his activities remain on the scale of the hand tool.

In addition, the time commitment to a large scale enterprise can mean that it is necessary to eliminate other activities, including those synchronous activities that make the smallholding ecologically and economically viable; or to similarly expand them to match the scale of the larger undertaking.  Maybe this is desirable – maybe the switch from smallholder, managing animals and plants, to big businessman, managing money and equipment, is one the farmer will not regret; we, however, are exploring what is possible on the small scale, the family scale.

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