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~Whole  Systems  Agriculture~

Living the Agrarian Dream Through A Whole Systems Approach
to Hand-Scale Farming


Check us out on FaceBook as "Flower Garden of Madera"


It's my pleasure to share our experience and our vision as we continue to develop the whole systems agriculture concept at our little farm near Fresno, California. In a few years we will have been in business for a quarter of a century, and for all but the first of these years our hand-scale farm completely supported two adults, and contributed substantially to the material well-being of a five-child family--now adults themselves and discovering the value of cooperative living and working. Economically, we have held our own in a climate generally hostile to small-scale farmers. Although our monetary return to labor is low by the standards of industrial society, we are living the agrarian dream of finding security on a small piece of land. Our work is supported completely by sales at farmers markets and we are glad to share what we are learning freely with the greater community. We do not solicit grants, subsidies or donations. Our labor is family-generated with the occasional seasonal assistance of WWOOFERS whom we have accepted since 2010. If you are unfamiliar with the term, you are invited to take a look at our page here.

You don't need to know a lot or have an advanced education to practice the whole systems method. One can do well just shoveling up beds, mulching, planting, watering, pulling some weeds, and following simple directions on seed packages and in very basic books. I call whole systems agriculture "know-nothing-agriculture" because my garden system, just like my body, does a hundred things for me that I never need to concern myself with or think about things like breathing, blinking and walking. Systems manage themselves. Better to know few things about whole systems than a thousand details about their parts.

Being aged or sick or lazy should not be a barrier to success as a whole systems practitioner. Having surpassed three-quarters of a century in age, I let my garden system do much of my work. Forking mulch is much, much easier than digging heavy soil. Pulling a few lightly rooted weeds is much, much easier than tilling or hoeing thick weeds growing in tight, unmulched soil. I probably spend no more time in my garden than I spent in my classroom when I was teaching school--say 1000 hours a year compared to the 2000 hours that regular people work. Lots of that time is not real work either; I walk around and enjoy the wonder of it all. That allows me to putter and weave my theories. This is why I call whole systems agriculture "do-nothing" agriculture. In a world that places value on more and more, I hold up the goal of doing less and less.

Many of the best principles of systems are counter-intuitive and indirect. Causes will often be widely separated from effects in time and space. The intuitive way to deal with pests is to poison them. The results are immediate and satisfying but there may be unforeseen difficulties. When pests die, so do the predators that depend on them for food; when pests return they multiply unchecked creating infestations even more severe. This is why, at the first sign of a problem, I do nothing. And so it is that in many ways by doing nothing, I can accomplish everything.

It's been said that systems theory turns the world inside-out and upside-down--and my experience has shown this to be true. In the more than 35 years I've been formally acquainted with systems theory, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of adults I've found that take more than a polite interest in it. The academic community has kept it locked up in their ivory towers. Most people like to see their world outside-out and upside-up. In many cases, I've found that children are more receptive to the systems view of things.

Finally, there is a children's song that captures the essence of the kind of know-nothing, do-nothing agriculture I'm talking about. It illustrates the cycles of initiation and completion inherent in natural systems.

Oats and peas and barley grow.
Oats and peas and barley grow.
Do you or I or does anyone know
How oats and peas and barley grow?
First the farmer plants the seeds,
Stands up tall and takes her ease.
She stamps her feet and claps her hands
And turns around and views the land.

Next the farmer waters the seeds.
Stands up tall and takes her ease.
She stamps her feet and claps her hands,
And turns around and views the land.

Then the farmer pulls the weeds.
Stands up tall and takes her ease.
She stamps her feet and claps her hands
And turns around and views the land.

Last the farmer harvests the seeds.
Stands up tall and takes her ease.
She stamps her feet and claps her hands
And turns around and views the land.

Oats and peas and barley grow.
Oats and peas and barley grow.
Do you or I or does anyone know
How oats and peas and barley grow?


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Since July, 2005

Whole Systems Agriculture ~ Madera, California ~ ©2005
www.wholesystemsag.org
Permission is granted to freely print and distribute copies of this document.