Re: co-farming in PNW
From: Kay Spencer (
Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2009 10:03:32 -0700 (PDT)
Thank you to all the people who have responded to my post so far. Some

1. thank you for the various links. I have  looked over them in the past but
will again.
2. Mexico would not be right for us. Nova Scotia is a maybe. Besides the
Northwest, We are also considering southern Wisconsin, southern NY
state/Pennsylvania, and New England. What we are looking for are areas which
have a culture of diversified small farms, affordable farmland, a climate
with sufficient and even rainfall for grass-based agriculture, and the
possibility of a *relatively* liberal general mindset. Thus, the Rockies,
the South, Southwest, and a good portion of the Midwest have been crossed
off our list.
3. I love Port Townsend WA but the cohousing there illustrates some of the
conflicts with the cohousing model I run into -- they have a very stringent
pet policy (I have three herding dogs at present, not even one of which
would be acceptable there). They have a relatively small plot of land (7+
acres) which is enough for vegetables and fruit and chickens but not
anything like enough for a sustainable livestock operation, which in that
climate I'd guess would be 25 acres minimum and 50-100 would be more like

Some other thoughts:

It seems to me that there are very good reasons why, despite the attractive
image for me and for some others, co-farming hasn't happened much. First,
farming is now an uncommon skill. There is a lot of physical toil, a lot of
hard decision-making, and, with animals anyway, very little room for
squeamishness or sentimentality.

Most of the people who are interested in a more communal, sustainable
lifestyle are not going to be the same people who can visualize themselves
plucking broilers, castrating pigs, or putting a bullet into the head of a
ewe who shows poor mothering traits. People who have enough money to buy
into cohousing probably aren't going to have the leisure nor inclination to
spend all day planting lettuce or stretching fence either, at least on a
regular-enough basis to get real good at it.

Many folks who do want to 'live off the land' in a cohousing model also are
invested in highly alternative farming styles, such as permaculture, or
biodynamics. Some of these are not just agricultural methods, they are also
belief systems. This adds another layer of complexity to practical farming
decision-making in a communal setting.

Because farming is an uncommon skill, when someone decides they want to move
to Australia or just take a lucrative job offer which doesn't leave much
extra time, there could easily be no one left in the whole place who can
prune fruit trees or manage the laying hens or whatever. And farming isn't
something that can be picked up and put down. There needs to be continuous
care and attention applied.

Significant arable acreage isn't typically affordable within commute
distance of most population centers with the kind of jobs attractive to most
cohousers (is that a word?). Rural college towns might be the exception.

Right now, I am guessing that the most viable model that would also meet
some of my needs would be 50-100 acres within ten miles of a small (around
30,000) town, with a fairly typical cohousing set-up on a small portion of
it, with a farm manager or team running the farm part. This would have to be
a paid position, with the option or expectation of volunteers and work
parties from the cohousing community helping out. Priority given to
supplying food needs for the community but surplus being marketed . . .
something like that anyway.  Does that sound realistic at all?

Since my daughter is at college in Philadelphia right now, we will have the
opportunity/excuse to check out some of the cohousing-with-farm groups in
New England, like Nubanusit. That will help clarify my mind some, hopefully.

--Kay Spencer
Soquel CA

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