Greetings and Salutations. First off, I must thank all of my friends who helped us to get to July intact, at moerkaats urging in the comments of my last diary...We recieved almost $1400 dollars, which was sufficent to get into July. Having no coin of the realm to pay them back, I have decided to try to return their largesse with the only "coin" available to me, information. Accordingly, this will be the first of several diaries about sustainability, from a small farm point of view. A summary of the current state of my farm, and what our options are at this time will appear at the end, for those that choose to read that far.
Sustainability has become the newest buzzword, and seems to enjoy usage across the spectrum, from greens, to corporate press releases. and like all buzzwords, will shortly disappear from the lexicon, both from over-use and under-definition. Like many words that achieve this particular status, it seems to have almost as many meanings as it does advocates. Accordingly, I will define it for my purposes here, and hope that my definition sufficently meshes with yours to be sensible.
In my lexicon, physical sustainability refers to systems, or groupings of systems which can be operated over the long term with no degradation of the systems, although individual components may suffer degradation. additionally, physically sustainable systems must, at the very least, be energetically and environmentally neutral or benign (although, one would hope that they show a net positive activity in both dimensions). My definition is system based, as I can see no way to examine the sustainabilty of a single component or device, without the context of the system it is being utilized in.
Likewise, there is a flip side to sustainability, one which gets the greater amount of thought at the moment, as it is much more intimately related to politics, and the short term return viewpoint which has become the de facto law of the land...Financial Sustainability is much more chimeric in it's definition, which for my purposes I take as: a system which provides a clear and definable profit over the long term, with clearly defined return on financial investment, and no periods of negative return in the short term. Unfortunately, that definition is patently absurd by any standards I am familar with, given that the socio-politico-economic factors that the system must perform in are not subject to any bounds that are applicible to the system we are working with.
Hopefully some-one smarter than I can come up with a better definition, one that is applicable to the systems I am describing, describing the real world, but at least marginally comprehensible. I use this definition in the meantime, as it is what is required of small farms at the present time, and thus useful in that context.
As readers of my previous diaries have probably surmised, I don't understand financial sustainability, and am not going to try to speak of it, except as it pertains to the examples I use. My concentration and efforts are directed to physical sustainability, and that is what I was trying to develop and maintain on my farm. For purposes of discussion, I have divided the farm up into various subsystems, all of which are related and interracting with each other in the real world, but which can be seen as acting independantly (ie) each subsystem as enacted or planned, utilizes each other system as a source or sink of materials and or energy, with the net export of the system (farm) as a holistic entity being foodstuffs (cheese, eggs, vegetables), raw materials (wool, wood, compost), and energy (electricity, gaseous and liquid fuels). The subsystems I will examine in future diaries will be Heating and cooling, electricity and fuels, goats and sheep, vegetable products, fowl, and cooperatives (extending the system).
When we first came to this location in 2002, our goal was to build a farm that would be productive (although the land was deemed to have little or no potential for commercial agriculture), environmentally sound, and sustainable (although we didn't use that word back then). We had as our examples Salitin, Rodale, and the New Alchemists. Over the past four years, our aims have broadened, as our financial means diminished, and this provided a potent training in the difference between financial and physical sustainability, and how they can diverge. the optimal herd size for a piece of property is determined by available feed (hay, grain, and pasture), and all of these ideally would be determined by the land, environment, product requirements and labor resources, instead, in a situation analagous to the current health insurance system, they are determined (indirectly) by people in suits who have often never set foot on a farm. Likewise energy systems are determined on a one size fits all basis, and choosing the correct one for your operation becomes a question of "how much green can you afford", and the repercussions can exceed the scope of immediate finance and applicability.As an example, I was recently refused a refinancing package, because my furnace is outside my house.
Currently, we are told that we will be lucky to keep the farm, this even though sales of wood furnaces and sustainable energy systems are up and increasing. We have been rejected by 6+ underwriters (and 3 brokers have given up), for reasons like "non standard heating system" and "unique property"...according to brokers and lawyers in the area, we have the following options available to us. After all the activity with these mortgage companies, my credit is effectively destroyed, having dropped 130 points to 545, and preventing any additional moves in the direction of refinancing.
Option 1: Close the farm and the sustainable energy company, get jobs paying a minimum of 100K, and they will defer principle payments for several months...this option is from the "agricultural" lender that currently holds our mortgage. They will not consider a refinancing, and will not allow us access to the equity in our property (150K+ according to an appraisal) to restructure our debt...this option requires us to sell all animals immediately, and come up with 11-12K within a week.
Option 2:Declare bankruptcy--pretty much as above, but we only need to raise 2500 this week, plus complete destruction of our credit.
Option 3:Raise 15-16K by july 15th, with 5K raised before thursday of this week, without tapping into the operating funds of the farm or business, use this money to pay off the most aggressive creditors, and bring us up under 10 days for all other accounts, vastly curtail the development of the farm, and the business, cutting out all maintence, and non-essential expenses...reduce all herds to bare breeding stock, stop development of the coop, get second and third jobs and "hope the horse learns to sing"
Option 4: Allow the lender to sell the house/farm, get rid of all the animals, and move to a city, try to get a job in computer science or biochemistry or system engineering after being out of the job market for several years.
Option 5: find someone willing to help us obtain a mortgage, or hold a mortgage for us, on the basis of our 15 years of perfect credit and 3 mortgages paid off, rather than the last 30 days of aberrant activity...unfortunately this isn't much of an option, as my fairy godmother has (obviously) had her employment terminated.
All of the above options require that we stop development of the coop we are trying to form, and all development we are/will be doing in sustainable energy ahnd sustainable systems.