A living laboratory for a sustainable human future.

Why I Bother to Farm at Earthaven, Part Two: A Collaborative Farming Manifesto

Written by: by Zev Friedman   



Now in its 24th year, I believe that Earthaven is in a stage of cultural succession in which collaborative farming has more of a role to play than in the early years. The pioneer effort of Earthaven’s first two decades created both the literal and cultural topsoil needed for supporting plants and the human systems it takes to sustain that production.

Food production has as much to offer the community for its human relational benefits as for its survival function. For now, we know we won’t starve if our crops fail. Our privileged access to many backup food sources is a huge cushion. Although it is likely in coming decades that intensive self-reliant food production will become necessary instead of optional, for now it is a choice.

So why would any of us choose to grow food? Why don’t we just keep growing good topsoil? Growing significant amounts of food is hard work that requires diligence, sacrifice, and a total reset of activities and priorities, without anything like a guaranteed success.


Although I cannot speak for the livestock or biodynamic farmers or the numerous home gardeners and landscape managers who are my neighbors, I’ve articulated these goals for myself, and I believe we generally share them:

To develop a culture of collaborative farming and mutual aid which is enjoyable, satisfying and full of purpose.

To maximize learning now through successes and failures of edgy experiments, while fossil fuels and specialized resources are available as a safety net.



To develop an adaptive, climate-resilient agro-ecological system that can healthily sustain people indefinitely, even in a subsistence lifestyle.

To obtain enough yields of diverse foods, medicines, fiber and fodder and to learn to skillfully cook and/or process them for an integrated agro-ecological lifeway.


To influence other farmers through example and proof of concept, as communicated through farming together, as well as educational formats and writing.

To design a system which is >90% self-sufficient in nutrients, minerals and organic matter.

To breed seeds and plants for maximum diversity, for polyculture and successional farming practices, for micro-local adaptation, and for flavor and nutrient density.


photos, from top: Local liquid concoctions for Xmas Eve; preparing “lasagna” gardens is a big job!; Meira leads Julia through the milpa; Full Circle Farm potato harvest curing.


Zev Friedman is a leading permaculture designer, researcher, teacher and writer in western North Carolina, specializing in hands-on, in-depth permaculture and earthskills education. He lives in the Hut Hamlet. Feel free to contact Zev directly with comments, questions, and your own stories at zevkudzu at gmail.com.

mutual aid, seeds, topsoil, zev friedman

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