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Linda Buzzell

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Farm Dreams: If You're Not on the Land You Love...

Posted: 06/28/11 11:55 AM ET

" ... love the land you're on."

Remember that old song -- "If you're not with the one you love, love the one you're with"? The words keep running through my mind as I listen to many of our friends who dream of someday owning traditional farms and farmland.

This back-to-the-land dream is a traditional American longing, revived in the 1960s and 1970s. We envision a small farm with plenty of space for a homey farmstead, plants, animals, loved ones; a farm that will support a family without the need for outside income and off-farm jobs.

In other words, a vision of farm life that is probably not viable for most people today, even if we use the most advanced permaculture techniques.

Before this sad and unsustainable situation can change, this country needs to totally re-think the corrupt agricultural laws and practices that have turned precious farm land into just another commodity and that support the cruel and toxic industrial agriculture and factory farming that destroy public health and the viability of small farms and farmers.

But who knows how long that will take?

Meanwhile, the people I know who are on substantial pieces of land have either inherited the land or have been able to buy it (or get a mortgage on it) using the proceeds from industrial, corporate or cyber jobs. And however they've acquired it, they find it's a struggle to support themselves completely from tending that land. There are some exceptions, of course -- legendary, hard-working farmers like Sepp Holzer and Joel Salatin come to mind -- but by and large traditional American farm life is pretty hard to sustain under today's conditions.

Most of the modern farmers I know who are living on their own land (or land they own in collaboration with the bank) have adopted the multiple income streams model -- a polyculture of yields that includes food, energy, forestry, specialty crops, fiber and shelter as well as cash. They often use the land for many purposes: growing, grazing, farm-stays and B&Bs, ecotourism, aquaculture, growing mushrooms and other specialty crops, teaching classes, artisan crafts, roadside stands, CSA's etc. Many also depend on off-site sources and second jobs for additional cash to keep the whole enterprise afloat.

And what about those of us who don't have traditional farm land? This is where the song comes in... We need to learn to really see, connect with and love the land we're on and the cultivatable land all around us.

This land may never yield a full living or an alternative career, but if we open our hearts to it, view it with new eyes and listen for its messages of possibility, it may provide much of our food and other resources, saving us from having to earn as much cash elsewhere.

The local food, home growing and urban agriculture movements have discovered this secret. Every square foot of open land, lawn, roof space and balcony can become our dream "farm."

For example, right now on our suburban driveway we have half wine barrels and terra cotta pots full of this season's crops: 'Roma,' 'Costeluto Genovese' and 'Sungold' tomatoes... bronze-leaved lettuce, collard greens, basil, borage, radishes, Swiss chard and much more. And in our backyard we have over 100 fruit and nut trees plus berries and herbs -- a permaculture food forest.

It's not a farm but it's an important part of the farm of our dreams.