The Small Scale Farm
By Kyle Franks, CTAHR, DHHL Jr Extension Agent
There is momentum building toward small farms as more and more people see the need for locally produced foods and products. With the events of the past three years, supply line weaknesses have been highlighted and these weaknesses, coupled with being an island community, have helped show how we as individuals and as a community are all affected by even the smallest ripples within a centralized supply chain.
Here in Hawaii, we have the blessing of a year-round growing season, and yet currently Hawaii’s population is hugely dependent on centralized supply chains for 85-90 percent of the population’s food-needs. Here on Molokai, we are still very dependent on imported food and animal feed.
Small scale farming, whether it be subsistence, market, or both, can provide a great shock absorber against a fragile supply line. Small farms can be simple from focusing on a few fruit trees and a few crops to a diverse ecosystem where abundant food becomes a by-product. At this scale, maintenance becomes easier especially as the system becomes established. ‘Grocery gardens’ can be the main source of fresh vegetables, annuals and perennials mixed, while small patches of starch crps such as banana, taro, uala, and squash can help provide for a complete diet. Alongside or within these can be a few trees, such as ulu, one established ulu tree can provide enough food for a family of four for 75 years, and avocado, which is full of healthy fats. It is surprising how many calories of food can be grown in small spaces.
Teaming with perennial crops is a must for a low-maintenance system. If we look to nature, ecosystems are mainly comprised of perennial species. These plants grow better on less
nutrients, progressive nutrient uptake through time, and establish a large root network to aid in soil stabilization. This is much easier for the subsistence grower as the market farmer may have beds of high turn-around annual crops. All this is to say, starting small by growing what you and your family will eat can be highly rewarding.
The industrial model of food production does in fact produce food for less cost in the beginning, but there is a lot given up for cheaper foods – lacking in micronutrients, exacerbating soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and not accounting for the long-term economic and social effects are a few to consider. The small farm is able to provide fresh foods that are abundant in nutrients, better resource management with the surrounding lands, energy conservation, management of food surpluses, wastes — things that can feed back into these small farms — and bolstering local economies.
Proper and responsible land use is paramount in prioritization of resources. Precious land resources of water preservation, forest management and protection, grazing management, and farming methods are the backbone of any resilient community.