Susan’s design was of particular interest to me due to the complexity of building a farm on slope, and the serious thought that she was putting into arranging all of the Permaculture pieces, from water harvesting, to soil health and biodiversity, and obtaining a yield. Although TERFF is not as urban as most of the farms that I am visiting for the City Farming project, as it is situated in a neighborhood of properties with acreage, Susan is applying strategies to make the most of her space that are applicable to smaller holdings and city lots, as well.
The Grave’s 9-acre farm was undeveloped when John purchased it 22 years ago. Susan explains: “Several years ago, when I met my husband, we started maintaining the property, doing all the things that that you think are the right things to do until you learn that you're actually hurting your environment, such as killing native grasses and plants, as well as using poisonous chemicals…We started looking at a different approach on how we were treating the property; I wanted to be able to actually grow organically, embrace the native plants that were here and enjoy the natural water sources.”
“Raspberries are growing in the area near our neighbor’s natural spring. In the garden a wide variety of herbs and vegetables are growing…I have trellises near the house full of lavender, spearmint, and peppermint. This gives a great aroma near the house and is handy for salads and teas.” Sue explains that, in addition to growing food, her initial motivation was to create an agriculturally and environmentally friendly environment by employing rainwater and graywater systems.
Recently, her vision has expanded.
Sue is doing some interesting market research to find out what her customers want and need. “I’m advertising that ‘We may have products and services that you are looking for. Please feel free to give us a call and if we don’t have what you are looking for we may know someone who does.’ When they see the advertisement and call, that helps me to learn what is marketable out there and what people are looking for. I get new ideas and bridge networking with other businesses and farmers.”
“We've used it on our yard and in the garden. I have dense clay –based soil in a raspberry patch where I did not want to do anything too drastic to that soil. But I wanted to begin to amend the clay based soils ability to provide what the raspberries needed. I started to think about organic soil amendments that we might be able to purchase...Then a friend, who has ownership in the humate mine, mentioned to me over a year ago the benefits of humate.” Today, after amending the soil with the humate material, her raspberry patch is thriving.
“What I'm learning about humic acid is that it’s a great neutralizer; that if you have clay soil that is difficult to work with, it not only will allow water to flow through it better, but it will also help to amend the soil and provides nutrients to the soil. On the other hand, if you have soil that was extremely sandy, it would also help to retain water and provide nutrients to the sandy soil.”
“ A year ago, we bought 2500 pounds of Humate, which comes in really big bags. It’s a unique soil amendment, and this particular source of humate started eons ago as plant matter that decomposes and petrifies into humic acid.”
What Susan discovered is that there are no Arizona sources for humate. She is excited to bring humate to market to provide a local source of the product and to save her customers the shipping fees associated with shipping small bags to Arizona from New Mexico. Susan also points out the many resources that she has available on her property, and has ideas to bring other soil amendments to market, as well.
I snapped this photo of two great books that Susan had on her kitchen counter. To get your own copy, click the links below. I am especially excited about the field guide, which is hard to find in bookstores, but which is available on Amazon. Woot!
Arizona Rare Plant Field Guide created by a collaboration of agenices. Proceeds benefit the Oro Valley Public Library.
Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, 2nd Edition: Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain into Your Life and Landscape by Brad Lancaster. A must-have for water harvesters, Permaculturalists and gardeners.