Episode 267. Smallholders

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 16th of August 2021.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

We need a mindset change in this world. Too often we see death, destruction, disease and hopelessness. I’m pretty sure we can do better and equally I sure I know which way many of us can go. 

From the website “Journey to Forever”:


Small family farms are the backbone of a community, a nation, and of society as a whole. A landscape of family farms is settled, balanced and stable, and generally sustainable. It’s the natural shape of society on the land. Such communities aggregate into strong and secure nations.

End Quote

Family Farms

Small family farms covers a multitude of options:

From the Foster and Allen track: “Boyle in the County of Roscommon”


My father owned an ass and a goat and acre of land as well

Me mother kept some hens and ducks and the eggs she used to sell.

End Quote

That describes the version of a small holding passed down through my family. Maybe not an acre, a little more but the smaller end of things. These things came to me maternally from the Kingdom of Kerry and paternally from the People’s Republic of Cork. The few acres idea seemed to settle on me early but not to most of my siblings. The other extreme of the family farm idea is the 640 acre or one square mile property. Lots of them existed here in Australia prior to the get big or get out chemical paradigm. In between those extremes are an infinite number possibilities. 

The key I think is the mindset. This includes, amongst other things the inclusion of animals in production systems. Anything from guinea pigs to cattle can work. The principle behind this is the conversion of photosynthesised energy into meat, milk, fibre, hides and manures. Clearly the guinea pig example is purely for manure production in most places outside Peru. If there’s anyone out there milking these little creatures, I’d love to hear from you.

Our Systems

Another rule of thumb for smallholdings goes like this: the smaller the land area the more likely plants will provide the income. I’ve lived on blocks from 2.2 to 54 acres in the past. The 2.2 acres was where I started on the gateway stock of poultry. Chooks, ducks and geese to be precise. After that I learned the gentle art of poddy raising a calf, keeping sheep and dairy goats. Even the 54 acres was really sufficient for keeping cattle, especially dairy in the regulatory environment in Australia. I know of a famous raw milk cheese maker from West Cork who made and continues to make a good living who started off with one dairy beast. That a country allows raw milk cheese making makes a difference.

On our current place I’ve discovered the joys of pig keeping and the occasional whack from the electric fence. We tried wiltshire horn sheep but couldn’t keep the feed up to them from our one and half acres. So they’ve been sold on. We have chooks and ducks. We can’t keep sufficient pigs to make a living from them but they are there to bulk out our meat budget and, more importantly, to renovate and fertilise the pastures. We’re growing raspberries, apples and pears which came with the property. I’ve added jostaberries and looking to integrate strawberries. 

But the main income producing species will be grasses. A particular type of grasses known as cereals. This winter test plots of wheat, barley, oats and spelt are providing data. The idea is to institute a modified Fukuoka style grain production system and some post harvest value adding. Value adding is the key to smallholder financial comfort. So the plan, as she currently stands, has moved on from a five year rotation to a three species fukuoka rotation. Summer will be blue corn, a specialty type, link in the show notes. This variety ripens into a cool damp autumn which is ideal for our location in the North West of Tasmania. Given the season we find ourselves in, buckwheat will follow the corn. This may or may not be harvested, again depending upon the season. Ducks and chooks will have access to it if I’m not harvesting. Into the buckwheat I’ll sow spelt which is, by far and away, the winner in this winter’s trials. 

Ancient Grains

So let’s look at what these three grains have in common. They are speciality types. The market will be smaller but it will be a higher paying market. The corn and buckwheat are also gluten free so that opens other possibilities. Breads might be an option but to start with I’m looking at specialty pancake mixes. The wheat, barley and oats I’m growing at present I’ll feed off to the pigs, ducks and chooks. 

With all these things in mind, I should easily cover the fixed costs of the property, rates, electricity, fuel and internet basically. Anything over that is profit. The smallholder mentality then is experimentation, multiple income streams, duck eggs, pancakes, jams, cordials, fruit leathers and on and on, and a sense of self sufficiency and interconnection to community. And smallholdings are productive.

From the Journey to Forever site:


Sustainable farms are small. They’re mixed — mixed crops, mixed trees and mixed livestock, with all three mixed together in an integrated pattern that mimics natural biodiversity and reaps the benefits of collaborating with nature.

The main benefit is health: healthy soil, healthy crops and livestock, and healthy yields, along with low input costs.

This kind of farming is intense and needs close management, and since they’re usually family farms, this is why they’re small: a family can’t manage a bigger farm properly.

Anyway, there’s no need to: mixed family farms provide sustenance, food security and a healthy surplus for sale or barter — they far out-produce the bigger, mechanized farms.

End Quote

Gabe Brown

This seems counterintuitive when our mind’s eye vision of a productive farm in 1000’s of acres of corn or wheat. These though are monocultures. A smallholding is a polyculture. Things are interplanted, raspberries under apples, ducks amongst the early grain growth to cut it back and strengthen it. Everything is interconnected. A complexity that brings, if not stability exactly, a certain resilience. An ability to deal with differing seasonal patterns. And size is not the defining characteristic of a smallholder. Back in episode 245 we discussed Gabe Brown and his no-till chaos garden and his flexibility. If a winter cover crop doesn’t die off under snow, he grazes it and then plants into its residue. A recipe book approach would have glyphosate sprayed on the surviving cover crop to ensure planting would occur as per the recipe. 

Now Gabe farms 5000 acres so he’s probably not a smallholder yet the attitude and flexibility is what makes a smallholder. We need to grasp this flexibility, this test and react attitude. This is what makes smallholding a wonderful way to live. Constantly paying attention to details, thinking, correcting courses, watching the weather, reading the soil, feeling the way plants are growing and how animals are behaving are all part of the life of a smallholder. They are also the parts that bring the greatest satisfaction. Working with, nay, attempting to be at one with Nature is a never ending story, indeed a journey to forever. But the rewards are in the process and the eating. And this can be done in a small garden, a backyard, an acre, a few or, apparently, 5000 acres. So take heart because it is the smallholders of this world who will get it done, who will suck carbon from the air and change the world for the better. We smallholders are, as ever, the last great hope for stability and resilience.

So If you’d like to start your gardening adventure and life time of astonishing insights go to the website: https://worldorganicnews.com/freeebook/ and you can obtain a free copy of the eBook: The ChangeUnderground No-Dig Gardening System.

If you have any questions, thoughts or suggestions there’s the ChangeUnderground Podcast Group on Facebook. You can search the Book of Faces or there’s a link in the show notes and in the transcript over at WorldOrganicNews.com/episode267

Decarbonise the air and Recarbonise the soil.

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.




The ChangeUnderground Academy No-Dig Gardening Course:


FREE eBook: https://worldorganicnews.com/freeebook/

email: jon@worldorganicnews.com


Bubugo Conservation Trust


Journey to Forever: Small farms


UN agency urges support for small farmers to help them not just get by, but thrive and feed others


Blue Corn


Gabe Brown


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