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How to Farm Sustainably and Make Money Doing It

Contrary to what most people believe, a good living can be made on an organic farm, and what's required is farming smarter, not harder.

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This is a little more complicated than the simple example of sustainability in the dairy farm portrayed above, and a little more realistic for an organic vegetable farmer living in today's world. The job of the farmer standing by the one gate in the mile-high fence is to monitor what goes in and out. However, this is not to say that as many items as possible should be eliminated. Different farms have different inputs and outputs, and some farms have more than others. Importance needs to be placed on the relevance of each input and output to how it utilizes natural cycles.

Solar Dollars
Money is a medium of exchange. I use money to buy a chair, and I receive money when I sell a bag of carrots. I don't need to trade my carrots directly for the chair. Money is very handy, and it comes in various forms: coins, cash, checks, and credit cards, for example. But let's talk about the origin of money -- what generated those dollars in the first place? I'm not talking about the printing press at the US Mint or thefractional reserve banking system, but rather a novel way of money classification.

A mentor of mine, Ed Martsolf of A Whole New Approach in Morrilton, Arkansas, taught concepts of Holistic Management,* which include some interesting ideas on money and on goal setting. Martsolf described money falling into three nontraditional but distinct types: mineral dollars, paper dollars, and solar dollars.

Mineral dollars are generated when products of value are mined or extracted and then sold. Gold, oil, coal, granite, and rock phosphate are some substances that generate mineral dollars. If I owned a quarry of granite, my sales would be in mineral dollars. The upside to mineral dollars is that the money from the granite is real and can provide a sizable income stream until the resource is used up. The downside is that its source is finite, and that eventual depletion of the resource will terminate the flow of mineral dollars. Mineral dollars are a one-way street.

Paper dollars are the most common of these three types of money. If I buy a tractor for $5,000 and immediately resell it for $5,500, I've made $500 in paper dollars. Paper dollars come from transactions. No real product is involved, just my time, and knowledge that an opportunity exists. With paper dollars, there is always a winner and a loser. One person profits at someone else's expense. Our financial institutions all deal in paper dollars: The stock market, banks, and businesses are all involved in buying and selling. There is no overall net gain in paper dollars unless the government or banks create more money.

Solar dollars are unlike mineral and paper dollars. Solar dollars generate true wealth. They are forever sustainable and transcend the winner–loser scenario. In the Mile-High Fence example, natural cycles use freely available components and the sun's energy to create a product of value -- a product of solar dollars. The growing of plants and animals following basic natural cycles generates solar dollars. And while paper and mineral dollars may be used in conjunction with solar dollars, the focus on solar dollars is vital to any organic farm. […]

Richard Wiswall is the author of "The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff -- and Making a Profit" from Chelsea Green.

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