As an eco-friendly farm and retreat center, we are always striving to reduce inputs and become more self sustaining. But becoming a completely self sustaining farm is an incredibly lofty task! It doesn’t happen overnight, or even over the course of several years. Becoming a truly self sustaining farm requires work, time, and money. It requires several inputs, projects, and systems that you may be unfamiliar with. Our journey to become a self sustaining farm has thus far been a long and educational one.
While we by no means claim to be completely self sustaining, we do try to implement practices that will place us on the trajectory to become so. Below we explore the most critical elements of a self sustaining farm and how our own practices stack up.
Home Grown Food
Growing and consuming your own food is perhaps the most essential element of creating a self sustaining farm. Most of the food available for purchase in grocery stores has an incredibly detrimental impact on the planet. Almost every single item comes in either cardboard, the production of which exacerbates deforestation, or plastic, which is non-biodegradable and thus ends up filling landfills, killing our ocean life, and contaminating our food supply from the bottom of the food chain up.
By sharply curbing your consumption of harmful packaging materials, growing your own food allows you to significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Plus, going to the garden for your fruits and vegetables instead of driving your car to the grocery store will curb your use of fossil fuels as well.
A completely self sustaining farm would require cooking over an open fire instead of using electricity or propane. At present we cook for over ten people twice a day, five days a week. We are thus limited in this respect, but are conscious of our propane use.
Of course, a non-vegetarian self sustaining farm will also have to produce its own animal products. Doing so not only renders the farm completely self sustaining in terms of dietary needs; it also rescinds monetary support from the processed meat industry, which is a huge contributor to climate change.
At Gingerhill, we harvest our own pork, using every part of the animal. We make bone broth from the bones, use the fat for cooking, and fry the skin. We also harvest eggs from our chickens and have begun to raise meat birds. Though we do sometimes consume external sources of meat, we exclusively consume organic, ethically raised meats.
Home Grown Feed
If you are raising animals on a self sustaining farm, either for consumption or for pleasure, you must also grow your own animal feed. Though it sounds complex, if your farm is large enough, feeding your animals is simpler than you might anticipate. Cows, pigs, and chickens are usually partial to food scraps. Our pigs like to munch on honohono, an invasive, nutritious, and abundant weed. Both our pigs and goats enjoy (and help to clear!) our cane grass. Chickens love to peck at the brown spots on avocadoes, onions, and tomatoes that we cut off.
Between food scraps and weeds, you probably have enough food to feed your animals growing on your farm. If you have particularly large or hungry animals, you can even grow food exclusively for them. We have planted papaya trees and cassava for the sole purpose of feeding our pigs. Though we do supplement with grain, we have begun to transition to these lower-input methods.
The Earthship model is not failsafe, but it is an excellent model for a self sustaining home. Like an Earthship, a completely self sustaining farm will run on solar power instead of fossil fuels or electric energy. Not only will the use of solar panels benefit the environment; it will also reduce or even eliminate your electric bills! Furthermore, solar power generators require very little maintenance and repair. And, in the wake of recent climate change reports, solar power is expected to witness impressive technological advancement in the near future.
At Gingerhill, we possess batteries that harness and supply solar power. Though solar power is a renewable energy source, it has its drawbacks. On cloudy or rainy days, we are liable to face power outages. Because we have several residents and vacation rentals on site, we retain access to county electricity in the case of solar failure. However, in seeking to become more self sustaining, we keep our use of electricity to an absolute minimum. We also encourage residents and guests to be mindful of their power use, to turn off lights and unplug electronics.
A truly self sustaining farm will have its own source of drinking water. Many people in Hawaii use water catchment systems. Some people create wells, but as it is incredible difficult to drill through lava rock, wells are far less common in Hawaii than they are on the mainland.
We have yet to install a water catchment system. Though we are mindful of filtering our water appropriately, finding ways to be more self-sustaining in terms of our water usage is on our radar. At present, we use a commercial kitchen sink for washing instead of leaving the water running. We encourage short showers and mindfulness in water consumption.
The average individual uses approximately 7,000 gallons of water per year just to flush the toilet. Building a compost toilet is a great way to knock that number down to almost nothing!
Most people are averse to the concept of a compost toilet, but they are actually relatively pleasant and highly beneficial. Aerobic bacteria in the compost toilet break down waste into soil. Added wood chips or saw dust provide a carbon source, enhancing the final product: nourishing soil. Of course, we don’t use soil from the compost toilet to grow food for consumption. But it is great for nourishing inedible plants, as it contains a broad array of beneficial microbes and critters.
At Gingerhill, we have a continuous composter, with one entry and one exit. Adding carbon rich, dry material minimizes moisture and smell while enhancing the soil. Compost toilets are great because, since they don’t require a septic tank, cesspool, or water source, they can be built almost anywhere.
Income is perhaps the most difficult thing to procure for a self sustaining farm. Technically, for a farm to be 100% self sustaining, it should not require any inputs and, by extension, zero cash. However, a farm doesn’t become self sustaining over night. The materials and systems necessary to ensure the farm is self sustaining require capital, and capital requires generally requires income. The most self sustaining source of income is that which can be generated on site at the farm.
There are various ways in which we generate income for the purpose of promoting self sustainability. Our vacation rentals provide not only a consistent source of income, but also an opportunity to educate guests about sustainability. That’s a win-win, if you ask us! We also sell organic farm products to local vendors and groceries, promoting accessibility in additional to sustainability.