Two weeks ago I wrote that we were in the process of a mid-winter assessment of sustainability at Featherstone Farm. This process is long overdue, I’m afraid; the past three seasons have been chaotic and difficult from many perspectives, and it seems only now that we can catch our breath a bit and see where we stand.
There is 4 year old writing on our website, describing my perspective on the 3 legs of sustainability- personal, financial and, ultimately, environmental- at: http://featherstonefarm.com/sustainability-at-featherstone-farm---2010.html. The general questions and issues of sustainability have not changed since then, but our progress (or regress) on them has been significant.
2010 was our last truly profitable year at Featherstone Farm, the last time that I could honestly say, as I did, that “all indications are that FF can be sufficiently profitable for years to come”. 2010 was also the last year of sufficient rainfall in SE Minnesota. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the drought began in the late summer of 2011 and continues- with the exception of a 10 week wet spell in the spring of 2013- until this day. Rainfall, profitability and the overall sustainability of Featherstone Farm are very closely linked; we have experienced a dearth of each in the past 3 years.
This does not mean that the news is uniformly bad, however. The past 3 years have also seen Featherstone Farm also make remarkable progress on the environmental aspect of sustainability. The installation of a 38kw photovoltaic solar array on our shed now provides well over half of the electricity that we consume at our warehouse and machine shop. We have invested heavily in a larger, more sustainable rotation, to where we are closer than ever to being able to say, definitively, that we are building soil rather than mining it. We are simply more productive and efficient than ever in our farming practices, harvesting more (and feeding more people) than ever from an acre, or per gallon of diesel fuel used. We have accomplished a great deal, and I am very proud of that.
Nevertheless this progress has come at significant cost to us- the Featherstone Farmers- in terms of personal and financial stress. We simply have to reverse this trend, to make the place more sustainable in these aspects starting this season. 2014 will be a critical year in this way, without a doubt. We have strong plans about how to bring this about, but in this case “the devil is in the implementation.”
As always, we are most grateful for your support, in helping to bring about our highest aspirations of sustainability.
PS You can view the full assessment of sustainability that I’ve just written at: http://featherstonefarm.com/advocacy--sustainability.html