the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for farm

Mark Shepard Event here in Waterloo Ontario!!

..and I am sooo excited!  For those of you who don’t know Mark Shepard. He is “redeisgning agriculture in nature’s image”. He has a 110 acre forest farm in SW Wisconsin where he has been using his forest agriculture successfully for 18 years. I particularly like Mark Shepard as an example of industrial and sustainable farming coming together seamlessly.  He is a practical and down to earth farmer making a good living with permaculture forest agriculture. His personal website is here and he is a founder of the Restoration Agriculture Institute. I highly recommend this youtube video (However you only need to listen as its more of a slideshow video) as a great introduction to his farm. The basic premis is to use forest systems to maximize land use. He usees trees, bushes, vines, alley crops and livestock to output 7 times the harvest from 1 acre of land.

markshepard poster

Steckle Heritage Farm, Wiffletree Farm, KW Habilitation, Two Crows Growery, Our Farm, and VELD architect are sponsoring a 2-day workshop – Transitioning to Farming Perennials
Farmer, engineer, ecologist and author Mark Shepard will be providing a 2 day, in the field open consultation in Waterloo in October 2014. Mark will explain how to transition from a purely annual production to a perennial system that integrates nut and fruit trees, fruiting bushes and vines, alley crops and pastured livestock.  

Some key innovations that you will learn about are:

  • forest agriculture
  • permaculture agriculture
  • STUN- sheer total utter neglect farming
  • industrial scale, economically viable sustainable farming
  • keyline plowing and design (with in field demonstration)
  • fruit and nut tree basics

The Event consists of two parts:

  • A two-day workshop held at Waterloo North Mennonite Church on October 3rd & 4th. $195
  • A public seminar at Steckle Heritage farm on October 2nd in the evening. $10

For more information or to register please visit: www.shepardworkshop.eventbrite.com

VELD architect is proud to be a supporter of Our Farm for a number of years. They are hosting at their farm site in Waterloo.  VELD architect specializes in agritourism and sustainable farm design.

Farmer's share of the Food Dollar

farmer's percentage of the food dollar

If you been in farming for a long time or exposed to the farm life you are aware of the economic struggle that the farmer encounters daily. In fact, the economics of the food dollar don&#39t look good for farming. From 1910 to 1990 the percentage of the food dollar has been consistently declining.
Gliessman, Engles, Krieger, 1998

There are two factors affecting this percentage, the marketing and the production costs of farming. Farmers have two ways then, to get back more of the food dollar, reducing production costs or taking back marketing/selling dollars.

Production cost have increased with the need to buy more equipment, purchase more land and create a farm that can operate with a large scale that the economics allow for a reasonable salary. There is a lot of technology to keep up with and technology costs money. Using co-ops and neighborhood collaborations can reduce the investment costs.

High oil, nitrogen, and energy prices are here to stay. Farmers can start to look  at reducing energy inputs based in oil.  The sun is a free source of energy for you whole farm.  Assessing your energy uses and deciding where you can cut could be very beneficial.  If you have a high electricity bill, you can think about switching to more passive natural systems, for ventilation, heating, or lighting.  You can look at where energy potential is being wasted, for example cooling milk, where does that heat go? It could go towards heating your house, or perhaps contribute to heating a pig barn?

The other aspect is the marketing and selling food to the consumers.  Big grocery stores and processing companies have taken a major portion of the food dollar.  These companies govern the price of food for consumers and the price of food that the farmer should get. There are two major industry concerns here, is the consumer willing to pay more for food? and does the local food market allow farmers to recapture some of their food dollar share? Most people are not willing to pay more for food if they don’t have to, we are all cheap (not just the dutch)! So how can we skip the middlemen grocery stores? On-farm markets and in-town farmers markets, or even CSA, and other food share programs which deliver the food directly to the customer and the profits directly to your pocket!

Gaining back some of your food dollar will require some creative and perhaps even out-of-the-box thinking.  It might even get you criticized, but just image the white area in the chart representing the food dollar increasing and I think you will find its worth it!

Farmer’s share of the Food Dollar

farmer's percentage of the food dollar

If you been in farming for a long time or exposed to the farm life you are aware of the economic struggle that the farmer encounters daily. In fact, the economics of the food dollar don&#39t look good for farming. From 1910 to 1990 the percentage of the food dollar has been consistently declining.
Gliessman, Engles, Krieger, 1998

There are two factors affecting this percentage, the marketing and the production costs of farming. Farmers have two ways then, to get back more of the food dollar, reducing production costs or taking back marketing/selling dollars.

Production cost have increased with the need to buy more equipment, purchase more land and create a farm that can operate with a large scale that the economics allow for a reasonable salary. There is a lot of technology to keep up with and technology costs money. Using co-ops and neighborhood collaborations can reduce the investment costs.

High oil, nitrogen, and energy prices are here to stay. Farmers can start to look  at reducing energy inputs based in oil.  The sun is a free source of energy for you whole farm.  Assessing your energy uses and deciding where you can cut could be very beneficial.  If you have a high electricity bill, you can think about switching to more passive natural systems, for ventilation, heating, or lighting.  You can look at where energy potential is being wasted, for example cooling milk, where does that heat go? It could go towards heating your house, or perhaps contribute to heating a pig barn?

The other aspect is the marketing and selling food to the consumers.  Big grocery stores and processing companies have taken a major portion of the food dollar.  These companies govern the price of food for consumers and the price of food that the farmer should get. There are two major industry concerns here, is the consumer willing to pay more for food? and does the local food market allow farmers to recapture some of their food dollar share? Most people are not willing to pay more for food if they don’t have to, we are all cheap (not just the dutch)! So how can we skip the middlemen grocery stores? On-farm markets and in-town farmers markets, or even CSA, and other food share programs which deliver the food directly to the customer and the profits directly to your pocket!

Gaining back some of your food dollar will require some creative and perhaps even out-of-the-box thinking.  It might even get you criticized, but just image the white area in the chart representing the food dollar increasing and I think you will find its worth it!

Hay and Straw Storage as Insulation?

I'm sure you've heard of straw bale houses, but did you ever think that you could use your straw and hay storage as insulation for your farm buildings? Straw and Hay makes a great insulator because it is full of air pockets, air being a great thermal break that does not allow heat to be transferred to sensitive areas like inside barns where animals are living. By strategically locating hay and straw storage on your farm you can save cooling and heating costs for barns and houses depending on your farm needs.

Winter above, summer below, Image from Barns and Outbuildings and How to Building them

This technique dates back to the pioneers who settled and started farming.  A simple wooden structure would be placed in the pastures and covered with straw of hay. This would then provide shelter from the sun in the summer, and be a supplementary feeding for animals out to pasture.

Winter-hay and/or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

summer-no hay or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

We can also take this principle and apply it to a winter situation.  As hay and straw are collected in through the summer and stored for use during the winter, strategic storage can provide wind breaks for barns in the winter. Keeping the prevailing cold winter winds away from the barn walls can significantly reduce heating requirements for the sensitive chickens or piglets. By also adding an extra layer of insulation the heating that is put into the barn stays inside longer.  Not only that, but the convenience of having straw or hay located close to the feeding and bedding area is a bonus.  As the hay and straw get used through the winter you are left with an open barn again that can take advantage of natural ventilation and prevailing summer winds.

With a little bit of planning this simple strategy could save you money on heating and ventilation costs over the long term. And this strategy costs less to install than bigger fans and bigger heaters up front. Please feel free to add comments and critiques on how this might be adapted to work for you on your farm.

About the Agritect

They say you can take the girl away from the farm, but you can't take the farm away from the girl.  I left the family farm in 2002 to pursue a career in architecture and came full circle in 2008 when I started my master's thesis on architecture and agriculture: agritecture.

A few definitions (taken from Google definition):

ag·ri·cul·ture/ˈagriˌkəlCHər/

 
Noun:
The science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Middlesex County.  As a child I was fully immersed in the family farm. I very quickly realized that farmers are more than just farmers, they are contemporary Renaissance Men, understanding business, accounting, management, science, biology, ecology, mechanics, electronics, buildings to name only a few.  But farming is not only a science, its a lifestyle choice.  Its hard work! But is also the fresh air, the morning dew, the view over the land you work, seeing the first sprouts break through the crust of the field. Farmers are the caretakers of the land and the architects of the rural landscape.

ar·chi·tec·ture/ˈärkiˌtekCHər/

 
Noun:
  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.
  2. The style of a building with regard to a specific period, place, or culture.

The transition into architecture was not difficult (except for the city life). The architect is not unlike the farmer, they too are a Renaissance men (or woman in this case), skilled in many disciplines and big picture thinking. Using creative problem solving skills, the architect can think about a design in many different ways (including ones you might not think of) in order to find the best solution. Architects are trained  to manage many disciplines and many streams of ideas, problems, complex systems, and information. My education trained me in structure, ventilation, lighting, electricity, costing, etc. Not only are they trained in technical systems, but they also integrate culture, beauty, site and user specific needs into their thinking about buildings and design. All this information is then combined into one simple solution that assists the users of the building in terms of budget, energy costs, ease of use, and pleasantness of experience.  That is a good architect.

ag·ri·tec·ture/ˈagriˌtekCHər/

Noun:
  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing farming buildings with regard to the specific place, culture, and science of farming.

When I began the undertaking of my thesis on agriculture and architecture, I had an advantage; I knew the story from both sides.  I understood that a barn, house, or farm design, needed to be absolutely practical, it had to make economic sense, but I also knew how to make it energy efficient, personal, and as moving as the traditional bank barns. After the completion of my thesis I knew that working in the rural and agriculture sector is what I wanted to do. I am the agritect.

I am currently practicing architecture as an intern architect in the Waterloo Region and will soon become a fully licensed architect.

This blog is a resource, portfolio, and exploration of the sustainable relationship of agriculture and architecture. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in working with me.