SSCSA is the educational arm of S&S Homestead Farm, a small family farm established in 1970 on ten acres located on Lopez Island, Wa. In 1994, the owners, Henning Sehmsdorf and his wife, Elizabeth Simpson, left their teaching positions at the University of Washington to take up full-time farming. They bought an additional five acres, and leased another 35 acres from neighbors. They produce beef, pork, lamb, chicken, eggs, vegetables, fruit, flowers, hay, sheepskins, and (starting this year) dairy products and grain. Their products supply the needs of family and farm interns/apprentices; the surplus is sold to the community through a CSA.
Farm infrastructure has been developed gradually, incurring no debt. The farm is economically viable. Average direct production costs are eight percent, net profit 50-60 percent. The owners do not pay themselves a salary; instead, profits are returned to the farm to build infrastructure and the intern program. Interns receive academic credit through enrollment at WSUs Center for Sustaining Agriculture (CSANR), where Sehmsdorf has been appointed Adjunct Professor.
From the start, the farm has been managed according to the principles of ecological agriculture, integrating animal and plant production to build a self-reliant, biologically and culturally sustainable, ecosystem. Building humus-rich, biologically active topsoils has been a priority. Beds in vegetable production and the orchard have been double-dug following biointensive methods. Field trials in the use of biodynamic preparations (produced on the farm) to improve pasture and hayfield productivity are ongoing. Pesticides, herbicides, other toxic chemicals, or synthetic fertilizers are not used on the farm; instead, farm wastes are composted to produce fertility inputs as needed, as well as to prevent nutrient run-off and watershed pollution. Rainwater is captured from roofs and funneled through cattle troughs, cistern storage (for irrigation) and overflows into open swales that end up in the fishpond. Pond construction, planting trees and hedgerows throughout the farm, heaping slash piles in the small farm forest (when cutting lumber for building projects), have dramatically increased wildlife habitat for deer, occasional otters, raccoons, frogs, snakes, lizards, insects, as well as local and migratory bird populations. Animal and plant health is accomplished by strengthening immunities through rotational grazing, crop rotation, cover crops, and biodiversity. Selective crossbreeding of slaughter animals has maximized protein conversion of all-grass diets for beef and dairy cattle, and sheep. The use of fossil fuels and electricity has been minimized (a recent study of energy flow of sixteen randomly selected Northwest farms found S&S Homestead Farm the most energy-efficient by far, with an energy ratio of 1:1.5, in comparison to the national average of small farms of 1:7).
Over time, the owners of S&S Homestead Farm have come to realize the centrality of education and public outreach in their farm-related work. A small, integrated farm can be an exceptionally effective vehicle for education and training in the principles and practices of sustainability and self-reliance; its success provides a strong foundation for local, regional, national, and even international advocacy for environmentally responsible, or what Wendell Berry calls "regenerative," farming. Close interaction with CSA members, farm tours and demonstrations are a regular part of the owners work. Interns and apprentices at S&S Homestead Farm are mostly graduate students in agronomy, ecological agriculture, nutritional science, pharmacognosy, landscape architecture and related fields, but occasionally are regular and alternative high school students. Besides learning about sustainable food production, interns follow individualized curricula, carry out guided research, write reports and participate in farm seminars. Interns make important contributions to the development of farm infrastructure (last year, interns built a strawbale house from local materials to house interns).
- In collaboration with CSANRs Small Farm Program, develop an internship/apprenticeship program to demonstrate the viability of small-scale, integrated, and community-based farming regionwide.
- Secure the farm internship/apprenticeship program financially.
- Secure the leased acreage (35 acres total) by replacing the currently informal leases with long-term leases, or by purchase.
- Develop a legal instrument protecting S&S Homestead Farm as a working and teaching farm in perpetuity.
- Perform an in-depth economic analysis of S&S Homestead Farm operations with a view toward increasing farm income sufficiently to support a farm manager/education director after Sehmsdorf can no longer perform these tasks.