Every once in a while, I read a book so inspiring that it sets in motion a process of visioning, planning, and action. The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk is such a book, one that has me re-imaging extraordinary possibilities for our homestead on a hill.
Imagine a homestead and research farm set on a hillside in Central Vermont. Now picture lush gardens, food and fuel forests, and innovative projects such as small-scale rice paddies, compost hot water heating systems, mushroom cultivation, and perennial food crop and grazing integration. Author Ben Falk’s homestead, Whole Systems Research Farm is such a place, and he takes what he has learned from years of experience on his land, coupled with a professional and academic background in landscape design and permaculture to write this book, a handbook of sorts for sustainable living in an age of uncertainty.
Water pollution, drought, climate change, a depletion of natural resources, a consumer-based economy, the threat of economic collapse – how can modern day farmers and homesteaders best plan for and adapt to these modern challenges? Ben Falk argues that we can best prepare for an uncertain future by creating regenerative and resilient systems that perpetuate themselves over time, and shares strategies and systems that have been effective in revitalizing his own land.
I loved so many things about this book, but to highlight a few:
– A thorough discussion of water and earthworks. As a homesteader whose only sources of water are a pond and rain water catchment, I found this chapter to be extremely useful and informative. Falk lays out a number of ways that homesteaders can store, sink, spread, or slow water to make best use of it, when it is most needed. For instance, creating earthworks such as swales, identifying plants and animals that work best in your bioregion, and storing water in farm ponds. (I wrote about our experiences with farm ponds and swales here).
– The incredible photographs of the Whole Systems Research Farm’s land and buildings. When I’m in need of a little homestead inspiration, I just flip through the photographs of this book. Lush gardens, a series of ponds and rice paddies, incredibly constructed buildings, mature perennial bushes…I could go on and on! It’s like a permaculture homesteader’s dream.
– The lists of design principles and homestead and self-assessment tools that are contained within the book and its appendices. These include an extensive list of principles of resiliency and regeneration design, a quiz for assessing resiliency, a skill list for emergencies, among others. In particular, I found the Assessing Resiliency Aptitude Quiz to be surprisingly useful, giving me a new awareness of my strengths and weaknesses.
– The many tools for assessing a site, creating a working master plan, and designing with an ecological approach. I really appreciated how frankly Falk shared what worked and didn’t work on his homestead, and how he might do things differently in the future. While the focus of this book is not exclusively on starting a homestead from scratch, there are so many resources within this book that will be of huge benefit for readers starting on a new piece of land.
I would have loved to see more of a discussion of homestead finances in this book. While I know that one author cannot address all areas of homesteading, my own personal experiences have taught me that every aspect of building a homestead takes energy, whether that be in the form of labor or money. Creating infrastructure, systems and permanent plantings of food and fuel takes money and time and energy, and I would have loved a glimpse into Falk’s expenses when creating his resilient homestead.
If you’re looking to take your homestead to the next level of self-sufficiency and resilience, I highly recommend The Resilient Farm and Homestead. It is the kind of book you’re going to want to pore over again and again because there is SO much information and inspiration between its covers.