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Little-Bitty…and Optimal

by Robbie - May 10th, 2011.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

In our present culture the idea of doing something smaller, so as to do it better, is an alien idea.
Everybody wants to “go bigger”.  Bigger, or outsized from the scale of nature, is not better.  Growing acres of nothing but corn or soybeans is not better.  It’s just bigger.  You have lots more food “products” to fill junk food isles with; you do not have better food.  Making companies bigger dehumanizes the employees.  Making schools bigger has not improved the quality of education.
In 50 years in this culture I’ve observed this: increasing the scale devalues the parts.
I was raised with the idea that if you do something, you should do it with your best effort.  And my best efforts tend to be on a pretty small scale.
I started this micro-homestead with the idea of growing gradually, but also doing it with an eye for optimization.  It’s a mechanical-sounding word, a word associated with industry and corporate-speak.  But here’s what I mean by “optimal”.
Gardens should yield food, but not more than the soil can optimally provide.  Artificial fertilizers are not an optimal idea, and I won’t use them.  I’ll amend my soil with organic material, which this year I purchased.  Next year I’ll have my own compost and I won’t buy any amendments.  In fact, by October my compost heaps should be providing me with a lovely amount of fertilizer, and I’ll grow cover crops through the winter to add tilth and nutrients to my soil as well.
I used more heirloom seeds this year for optimal taste and sustainability.  Saving seeds is a way to save money and to do your own “genetic engineering” by selecting the best plant of that year and saving those seeds, year after year.  Over time you get plants that do better and better in our harsh climate.
Livestock should have optimal lives, and by this I mean all my animals must be healthy and happy.  Happy matters.  I built two roosts and two dust bath areas for my six chickens, and when I give them fresh greens every day (of a different kind every day for variety of taste and nutrients) I scatter them widely in the coop, which cuts down the need for competition. There are so many goodies to go around that there’s no point in fighting over them.  I think this is optimal.  In nature, competition is a lose/lose proposition-even the winner of a competition loses because that organism has to use valuable energy in the contest, energy it needs for survival, and ultimately, thriving.  So even the “winner” in a natural competition loses.  In nature when two organisms combine forces for mutual benefit, both organisms benefit from the relationship.

The win/win is optimal.  It’s what I go for.  I suck at math, but the win/win looks like great math to me.  So I strive to create those conditions in my chicken coop and run, in the garden with companion planting, in my herd and in my house.
I will only have four Angora rabbits in my herd at most, but each rabbit will have optimal attention, get regular grooming and the best feed and hay available, plus safe space to run on the grass and toys to play with.  Yes, even rabbits play, and it’s tremendously good for them to have time in the grass and to have new and interesting toys around on a regular basis.  They live in an outside hutch, too.  If you want optimal luxury Angora fiber, you need to pamper your bunnies and you need to keep them outdoors.  This calls for optimal security and care when setting up their dwellings.
I want my cat to be the best mouser he can be, so I make the time to play with him for at least 15 minutes twice a day.  It’s challenging to keep coming up with new things to stimulate him, but that’s crucial to keeping him in  “mousing shape”.  He also gets as much affection as he’ll tolerate, and near-total run of the house.  It’s His kingdom, so they’ll be His mice.  And I would never withhold food from a cat as a manipulation tactic.  It doesn’t make them better mousers.  It just weakens them.  Not optimal at all.
Dogs need to be walked, to be played with, to be loved on, and to have a solid routine.  They like stability, but they also need to be challenged regularly with new toys or games, new places to walk, etc.
So, to do all these things optimally I need to keep the scale pretty small.  One dog, one cat, four rabbits, six chickens, and a few hunks of soil to keep fertile.  That’s actually a lot.  It’s plenty, if you do it right.  If you want optimal return.
So for me, it’s optimal to be little-bitty.

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