Nature grow from her strengths. It’s one the reasons why natural ecosystems are so productive.

We don’t do it enough. Despite being one of the most important things to do to grow food that virtually looks after itself.

Imagine you bought a takeaway café.

The business was popular with locals, well equipped with all the usual deep fat fryers, grills, milkshake makers, and refrigerators, and had two part-time staff who were good at their job.

The accounts showed that the business was doing OK, but you reckoned you could turn over a better profit.

What would be the sensible thing to do?

Gut the premises, change the décor and staff, get rid of the deep fat fryer and a lot else, and buy a pizza oven.

OR

Get to know the business first.

Work side-by-side with the original owners for a couple of weeks. Learn from the staff – what works well, or could be done better. Take an inventory of the machinery and equipment. What’s in good condition? What needs replacing? Quizz customers about what they like and dislike about the café…

Then, with this information under your belt, start making changes, building on the existing strengths of the business.

Which approach would be more economical? Less risky? Less work?

Yes, your right – the second option!

That’s why most switched on food growers, businesses and community organisations use this Strength-based Approach.

It’s the approach nature uses

Nature sets her goals based on the environmental and climatic conditions at any particular site and modifies her goals as conditions change. Using her intimate knowledge and understanding of the patterns of sun and shade, soil moisture levels, prevailing winds…

It’s not a necessarily a conscious decision, but it lets nature view each situation realistically and look for opportunities to complement and support existing strengths and capacities.

A walk through any native bush brings home to us how nature matches plants and animals to their growing conditions. Species change as the microclimate, soil, and drainage and other environmental conditions change. These aren’t just landscape scale patterns. Look at how mosses prefer growing on the shady side of a tree and how a small hollow provides habitat for plants preferring moister conditions.

Food growers don’t do it enough

Instead we give ourselves a hard time choosing to mold our landscape to meet our goals.

By taking stock, you’ll be in a better position to develop goals that use your existing strengths and take into consideration any constraints and challenges you have.

Get to know your land first.

That means looking beyond the infrastructure, equipment, and machinery to do a detailed inventory and condition report for your growing conditions. You’ll find constraints but also hidden opportunities…

Let me quickly share my story

I thought I had done a reasonable assessment of Hill Top Farm (our Learning from Nature demonstration site).

I undertook a Sector Analysis, mapped the zones and main soil types, the vegetation (which wasn’t hard as it was mainly paddock grass), and even borrowed a laser level and GPS to map out the 10m contour lines.

But I didn’t look well enough. And I have had to deal with the consequences.

I underestimated the strangle-hold my main paddock grass – Bracharia decumbins – would have on almost everything else I tried to grow. Also, the powerful south-east trade winds drying out my country, and with high magnesium levels, making my soil as hard as concrete.

Nor did I  look closely enough at the changes in the physical environment within the property. There is one section of the orchard, for example, where I have planted and replanted a succession of expensive grafted citrus trees. I blamed poor planting stock for why they didn’t grow. Only to realise after a few hard hole digging sessions, that the soil was so compacted it took hours for water to drain away!

Getting to know your growing conditions is the most important to do to grow food that looks after itself.

With an intimate understanding of your growing conditions, you will choose the types and varieties of crops and ecological support species, that will do well in your environmental conditions.

You can then vary what you plant where to reflect the environmental patterns on your land. Just like the vegetation patterns we see in natural areas. Growing your plants in their preferred habitat niche.

It will also help you select suitable livestock breeds, saving money on the veterinary bills otherwise needed to keep them healthy. Most breeds of sheep, for example, don’t do well in hot climates. Dorper and Damara thrive (but you still need to keep them off your wet country).

By understanding our country we make the most of its inherent strengths, and our plants and animals are better able look after themselves.

None of what I am saying is new

Traditional farmers have been growing in response to their environments for thousands of years.

OK, they don’t usually do detailed site assessments because they know their land intimately. Having access to generations of accumulated knowledge.

Most of us don’t have that advantage. That’s why we need to take the time to get to know our growing conditions.

 

food growers

How can I get to know my growing conditions?

I haven’t got enough time to do a site assessment, and don’t want to buy or hire the expensive surveying equipment usually needed.

No worries! Get your FREE copy of GrowMap and quickly get to know your growing conditions. It’s FREE because it’s too important for you not to do it!

* Oliver Tickell, 2016. Going against the grain of convention. Resurgence 299, pgs 13 – 15.
Photo of the Indian women and their Amaranth crop – Seed Savers Network