Reviewed by Kerry O’Kelly
Another title for the The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk could be “Permaculture in Practice” as the value of this book is primarily through examining the 10-year case study of Mr. Falk’s Whole Systems Research Farm. This is where the book captured my interest – in seeing how permaculture ideas are applied, evaluated, and modified; understanding the logic of the decisions based on local conditions; seeing how the practices are refined over the years; and understanding their successes and failures.
The initial chapter outlines the need for emergency planning due to our current unsustainable use of our resources combined with ramifications of climate change. This sets the stage for defining the concepts of regeneration and resiliency and, more broadly, the philosophy Mr. Falk brings to his designs. The remaining chapters deal with specifics in five major areas: site establishment, water and land use, nutrient cycling, food crops, and food, and shelter.
Each subsequent chapter begins with an overview of the concept and a framework for Mr. Falk’s decision making process then launches into details of how the farm addresses this topic. Ideas are drawn from many cultures and many sources yet knit together to form a cohesive system. This is an information-dense book; however, concepts are easy to understand and clearly illustrated or diagrammed and often reinforced with a photograph of the farm or a sidebar description. As the book progresses, it is clear how the systems are interconnected, build upon one another, and have evolved over time. Mr. Falk brings an honest and critical eye to each implemented idea and is constantly evaluating each success or failure as well as overall balance.
While the book is directed toward the homesteader, there are many ideas and plenty of information that would be useful to the less intense gardener. Many practical skills and techniques are discussed. For example, how to use swales as a soil building and water holding tool; practical layouts for wind breaks; a simple techniques for evaluating your “water budget”; the proper way to stack and store firewood for an extended period. It also provides much food for thought – introducing the concept of brittleness in the landscape; questioning what inputs are necessary and determining their closest sources; discussing the balance between annual and perennial crops – all geared toward making you think about how to make your landscape more resilient over time.
By addressing the idea of a self-sufficient homestead, Mr. Falk takes the implementation of permaculture, combined with his personal philosophy, a step farther by trying to integrate all systems in a relatively small, cold climate location. Despite the survivalist undertones, The Resilient Farm and Homestead ultimately sends a hopeful message that resiliency and regeneration can be brought to the modern landscape.
About the Author
Kerry O’Kelly is a Certified Landscape Designer and Owner of Garden Dance Landscape Design in Andover, MA. She is currently an ELA Board Member and active on the Conference Planning Committee. She can be reached by email at Kerry@Gardendancelandscape.com.