One of ethics of permaculture is ‘right livelihood’, which is a boiled down abstraction of the idea that people should be able to make a living – being environmentally conscious doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on commerce. Which is good news for those of us with a mortgage. I want to be ethical in my interactions with the rest of the world, even the financial ones, but I also want my bills to get paid.
On that front, although this property is home now, and a test bed for a great many ideas and experiments (such as my dino-chook project – more on that in a later post), it is also intended to be a productive farm. Not just productive in terms of providing us with fresh, ethically produced food with low food miles and a certainty of no pesticide residues, but in terms of producing things for sale, to make a profit with which to pay for things we can’t produce ourselves (including mortgage repayments). I don’t think that Gallifrey Forest Farm will be making enough to free us entirely from our day jobs any time soon, but.. well, let’s call it an aspirational goal.
For this aspirational goal to become reality, we need some profitable enterprises. In order to count as profitable, an enterprise must bring in enough money to cover not only the associated production and packaging costs (e.g. fertilising the trees which produce the fruit, sugar to add to the fruit, bottles and labels for the resulting jam, etc.) but also the cost of our time. I have a notional minimum hourly rate which I would bill myself out at as an IT contractor. This rate is less than my day job currently pays me, but it’s enough to pay my share of the bills, and working on farm stuff is much more satisfying to me than my day job so it works out. If the amount of time that I need to spend working on an enterprise, billed at that minimum hourly rate, pushes the cost of the finished item past what someone would reasonably pay for it, then that item just isn’t profitable. And since estimating how much time something will take is actually part of my day job, I’m pretty good at it.
The end result is that a lot of farming enterprises which look superficially cool are almost immediately off the list. Milk, for example: keeping goats or a house cow to produce milk for our own use is definitely worthwhile, but selling milk just isn’t. The cost of producing and packaging and certifying it leaves a very, very slim profit margin (or no margin, depending on packaging choices, wholesale costs, and the cost of animal feed). Cider, on the other hand, seems like a good option. Wine has weird taxes placed on it, but cider and beer don’t. I don’t like beer, so there’s no chance I’ll be able to work out how to brew a good one, but I do enjoy a good artisanal cider (for anyone in the US, I’m talking about hard cider, with alcohol in it – not just apple juice).
This also works out well for me because one of my passions is heritage fruit tree varieties. So, with cider production in mind, I’ve been looking at lists of old apple varieties, and making a shopping list. I’ve whittled it down to 32 varieties, mostly dessert apples (i.e. good for eating fresh) with a few cider-specific types for the astringency and acid I’ll need for a good cider. Today I planted the first six trees, which I bought as bare-root stock last summer and have been keeping in pots since then. Only another 26 trees to buy and plant.
It made me happy, planting them. Even in the heat this morning, dripping sweat as I dug holes for them and hauled watering cans full of water to settle them in, it felt good. Next step, a couple’ve boxes of apples from the market, an apple press, a brewing kit, and some experimentation. Who’s in to taste-test the results? 🙂