Just a few thoughts and resources for planning the layout of your farm. Using both the tools of Holistic Management and Permaculture Design can be very helpful to make a sound farm layout before you begin moving things around or spending money and time on infrastructure. Sunday, the group braved the cold blustery mountain top winds in Ashfield, to begin to look at the land from a new perspective. Taking into consideration soil types, location of water and buildings. The MA Beginning Women Farmers group broke into two to work on a farm layout for the landowner, taking into consideration her mission statement. She is still working on her Holistic Goal, but gave some solid quality of life statements for the group to work from. We discussed how some aspects of permaculture design can be very helpful when thinking about what makes sense to place where on the farm.
In particular we discussed the concept of Permaculture Zones of Use.

A permaculture design is divided into zones according to how frequently you visit the different areas during the day or year. Your plants, animals, greenhouses, barns, watering troughs, fencing, woodlot, fruit trees, etc. are strategically placed in locations at certain distances from your house, so you visit the critical areas as you come and go, according to how much attention they need to be well maintained. I offered to the group that when I learned about this concept, it made a great deal of sense to me, so I moved my vegetable garden from it’s location about 50 feet from my front door to right outside my front door. I had no idea what a difference such a short distance would make, but humans being fairly lazy, it really made a huge difference. I found myself stepping from my kitchen out into my new garden two or three times a day to grab a fresh bunch of herbs for my food as I cooked it. I also noticed when it needed water, and gave it some, everytime I came or left the house, the same thing happened with the weeds. Since I had to look at the plants so often, I took much better care of them, weeded them much more often, but for less time – I was able to get the little weeds before they became a big head ache, and I grew attached to the beauty and abundance that the smaller but well tended garden brought into my daily living space. When it was bigger, and further from my view, I never cared about the garden the same way.

Permaculture zones save a lot of time and energy by reducing unnecessary inefficiencies.

The zones of use in permaculture design are numbered from the location you visit most frequently, Zone 0 out to the wildlands that are left relatively untouched.
Zone 1 contains the most visited areas of your living area/land.
Everything that needs a lot of attention should be growing or living in zone 1. Examples for plants to grow here are seedlings that require daily watering, frequently used herbs, salad greens and home consumption vegetables, small fruit shrubs and tress that you want to notice ripe fruit on before the birds or animals enjoy them, and other helpful herbs, plants, and flowers that bring joy and beauty into your daily life.

Zone 2 is still near the house, and is a small enough zone that it can be maintained fully with irrigation and mulch. It may contain larger groves of fruit shrubs and trees and other things that you may need to visit one or two times per day, like your poultry or young livestock.

Vegetables that take a long time to mature and are only picked once or twice also are grown in zone 2. Things like winter squash, potatoes and sweet corn, or garlic and onions as well as commercial crops.
Zone 3 is still a managed growing zone, but it would not be mulched and visited less regularly. It’s an area for your sugar bush, your large fruit or nut trees, and firewood. On farms it might include your main crop areas if they only needed tending at the beginning and end of the season, and the larger pastures if you weren’t rotating animals on a daily or hourly basis.
Zone 4 is only semi-managed. This is an area for gathering wild foods and for growing timber.
Zone 5 is your unmanaged land. It is wild and a source of inspiration, retreat and wonder.

When you are thinking about your property and trying to decide where you will put the important things you need to build or manage, it is also very important and useful to think about the scale of permanence. Basically, start identifying the critical factors that you can’t change – like the path of the sun.Because of shadows from large trees or existing barns, there may only be one or two ideal spots to locate the greenhouse you simply must have. So you wouldn’t want to inadvertently put something there that wouldn’t benefit from that precious sun, like a waste storage shed or parking lot. Wind is another permanent force, so knowing which direction it comes from during which time of year can help you reduce energy costs. Using landform to help harness gravity as much as possible for moving water around on your property is another excellent factor to consider early on in the planning process. If you invest a small amount in creating a small dam high up in the landscape that captures runoff every time it rains, you can much more easily and efficiently gravity feed irrigation lines and livestock water systems than if you try to pump water up hill from a stream at the bottom of your property. Similarly, if you design garden beds in zone 1, why not capture water from your rooves to water the beds (if you are building from scratch, you’d need then to decide to install a non-toxic roofing material in order to be able to capture and use that gravity fed and abundant resource).
Much more on these design concepts can be learned by reading PERMACULTURE: A Designers’Manual by Bill Mollison http://www.tagari.com/ or Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren

From CISA Beginning Women Farmer workshop sponsored by Holistic Management International and funded by a USDA grant, located in Ashfield, MA on 5/9/10