Real food independence does not put all its eggs in one basket! Redundancy — the principle sometimes expressed as ‘two is one and one is none’ — and diversity (more tools in the tool box) are the best insurance for the small farmstead. This principle has a lot of applications.
In the garden, for instance. If the results of your gardening are really important to your way of life — your survival, even –redundancy and diversity will be built into your garden plans.
Say you calculate your need for potatoes at 800 lb. the year, and estimate your yield at ten times the seed potatoes planted, you don’t plant just 80 lb. of seed, but factor in an overage in case the crop is poor that year. That way, supposing it doesn’t rain in June, or a cool, wet July brings on late blight, you have some hope that the harvest will still be within the limits of necessity. On our farm, the factor of safety for potatoes is usually estimated at about 50%.
But, suppose late blight wipes out all of the potatoes — and we have seen this happen — what then? If the privilege of eating for twelve months depended on your agricultural efforts alone, you’d have a backup plan for sure. And how sure are you that the privilege of eating does not depend on local, sustainable efforts (yours), or that it will not do so at some indeterminate but not necessarily distant point in the future? So, you have a backup plan.
Pursuant of this, we consider the nature of the vegetable crop. These potatoes we are growing, if they make, will provide a substantial portion of the carbohydrates eaten by the human beings on the farm over the year. This is nice because we like potatoes, they are easy to grow, and they store passively. Looking around for another plant food that fits a similar niche, we find corn — field corn, not sweet corn — which is also mostly carbohydrates, good to eat (we’re big cornbread fans), easy to grow, and stores passively. It’s a good fit, at least on our farm. So, we plant Country Gentleman; not so extensively as our potatoes — call us belt and half-suspenders people — but enough to fill in the gap if our potato harvest isn’t adequate to our needs.
This week our cows reminded us of the other reason for diversity when the gate to the big garden was left open for half a day. Three medium-sized dairy cows can eat and trample a lot of corn in six hours! No ill effects felt by the cows — they lined up at the garden gate after milking, hoping for a repeat visit — but our corn harvest will probably be half what it would have been but for their visit. And since it hasn’t been a stellar year for potatoes — we had a dry June — we have good reason to be grateful for the surplus of that vegetable we planted in April.
Redundancy and diversity. Nature always has a back-up plan.