The Principles of Husbandry

Husbandry is an honourable, ancient art which we believe will play a vital role in the transition we all must make towards a sustainable future – for towns, for agriculture, and the planet as a whole.

We are not talking about animal husbandry (the care and management of animals). Or crops. Or even husbands.

We are talking about something very much more. Husbandry is an ancient word which means nothing less than ‘the care and management of nature and resources for living’. This meaning has all but gone into obscurity. We are going to help renew that meaning. It seems important.

The traditionally taught trade of husbandry offers insights and techniques with which we can practice managing nature’s ecologies within our boundaries and capabilities. It is our view that a knowledge of husbandry is vital to every trade, business or occupation, for them to operate ethically and sustainably. Husbandry is the life-giving business of looking after the interaction between human and planet.

We feel that a much-needed contemporary re-working of the traditional values and practices of husbandry could offer some valuable answers to the global problems that we are all facing today.

"Husbandry is all-encompassing - and fundamental to which is the business of looking after the soil. Or, to put it another way, looking after what most people consider waste. Husbandry is looking after our muck, the mess we make around ourselves, and turning it into productive gardens."

The focus of our campaign is our practical application of the principles of husbandry on 47 acres of land near Ashburton. This land is intended to be an experimental learning centre where anyone who wishes can be involved in re-learning the most ancient of skills – looking after the ground which looks after us.

We have a vision for the revitalisation of rural resources:

  • The land needs looking after
  • Agricultural land needs more than just being farmed
  • We need to develop a stronger connection between people and land

Husbandry is a trade, a business. It has been practiced by human beings since the beginnings of humanity, but its practice is rarely understood today. In essence, husbandry is the humble acceptance of humanity’s place in nature as dominant. We are top of the food chain and with that comes the responsibility, the self-interested responsibility, of looking after the whole chain. We weak humans can use nature’s forces to help us.

Husbandry is the art whereby a connection is made between dwelling within an ecology, and looking after the boundaries which divide and connect that ecology with neighbouring ecologies.

Here on our fields near Ashburton, Devon, we are in the business of ecological management of land, i.e., the business of husbandry. The whole ecology of a piece of land, the earth under it, the water which flows through it and the air which flows over it is immensely powerful and complex. Nevertheless it is our business to attempt to guide this ecology to produce something of value with which we can use and trade.

Waste products

One of the most important principles of husbandry is the management of material without waste. All the material resources that we use, and therefore all we produce, comes from on, under or above land. It is the art of husbandry to find the best place to stack, sort, reuse and recycle these materials. Even weeds, plastic and mixed refuse have their place and can be treated conscientiously and respectfully.

A key aspect of practicing husbandry is to observe the workings of natural ecologies so that we may use them as a guide for our own systems. By falling in line with the natural systems rather than ignoring or opposing them, we can gain sustainable wealth and abundance – this can only be achieved by managing the whole of nature’s life cycles: waste, death and decay, as well as new growth. Therefore husbandry looks after the katabolic side of economic life (breaking down), as well as the anabolic side (building up).

Water works

An increasingly important aspect of the management of land ecology is the management of water. Too much water in a short space of time can be a very damaging, causing excess run-off, soil erosion and flooding. Likewise a lack of water for extended periods, particularly when crops need an abundant supply, can also be a major problem.

On our land we aim to collect water in ponds and ditches, as is traditional in good husbandry. We will be pumping water to storage tanks and ponds situated on the higher parts of the land so that it is available when needed during the drier months. Pumping will be done by electric power generated from the wind which blows freely over the higher and more exposed parts of our site. Collecting and storing valuable rain water in this way provides the dual benefit of providing a more constant water supply, as well as helping to reduce soil and nutrient erosion and prevent flooding.

Power - an important 'crop' to be harvested

Husbandry has traditionally used animal power to help humans cultivate their acres, but a team of horses or oxen needs several acres of its own for its maintenance, in addition to the acres cultivated for human use. In response, modern agriculture has resorted to the short-term solution of using power from fuel stored as oil, coal and natural gas, which essentially comes from acres of land from the distant past preserved as fossil fuels.

Bio-fuels, another modern ‘solution’ also presents problems in that it invariably takes up too many acres of good land which would be much better used to grow food, fibre or structural crops directly for human use within the local community.

More sustainable ways of providing energy for cultivating land can be achieved without the excessive use of acres for animal power, or from depleting our dwindling and hence precious supplies fossil fuels, or even from bio fuels with all their inherent socio-political problems.

Unsurprisingly these sources of energy have been staring (or blowing!) us in the face for eons, and although wind and water power has been ‘harvested’ by mills for generations, with the advent of various electric devices and battery storage, these old favourites, as well as the direct power of the sun, can be utilised in ever more diverse and useful ways. Since we have a windy site here on our Devonshire hillside, we have decided to take a concerted look at the wonders of wind power – though our poly-tunnel also uses natural energy by the sun making it warmer inside!

An Education: husbandry in action

By setting up this practical working experiment and thereby demonstrating some of the principles of husbandry we hope to share what we are learning with others who are interested.