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!!!!!! is "permaculture farm" an oxymoron?

 
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In the last couple of years, I find myself cringing when I hear "permaculture farm".   It seems that people like permaculture, and they wanna farm, so why not mash the two together?  

In the spirit of "there are many schools of thought under the permaculture umbrella" I am putting my cringe into one school of thought.  So this cringe is really just me - although others are welcome to have the same feelings.  And I will not impede the folks grooving on "permaculture farm."  

I think the primary difference between "permaculture garden" and "permaculture farm" is scale.  And when you get to a big enough scale, people use more petroleum and contemplate the use of pesticides.  

Further, Mollison makes it clear that one of the big functions of permaculture is to replace petroleum with people.   And once you do that, I wonder if you do better with the farm technique or with a whole lot of big gardens.  

Suppose we have a 20 acre "permaculture farm" and 20 acres of "permaculture gardens".   And each has 8 people living there full time.   Are they identical?   My guess is that they are probably very different.  My guess is that the farm has one leader and 7 employees with lots of row crops growing in literal rows.   I think that the gardens are probably five pretty active plots about one to three acres each with a lot of "zone 3" and "zone 4" that is pretty shared - and one person acts as a leader for the whole property, but provides very little leadership over four of the gardens - and strongly focuses on just one garden.  

That path for me smells like "permaculture gardens" and not "permaculture farm."  

Am I the only one that feels there is a distinction?


 
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The way my great grandfather 'farmed' would be permaculture.

He nurtured natural systems like hedgerows and microclimates to do most of the work for him.  Everything they grew, feed everything else they grew.  Demands on the farm were ever-increasing, so the soil fertility had to increase and there was nowhere someone could buy soil fertility.  Farm, forest, garden were all blended together with the systems he used.

What we call farming today is crazy-different than what it meant then.

Our family farm, we try to follow the lessons of my great grandfather.  We are very lucky to have someone in the family still alive who learned real farming from him.  
 
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I don't think it's an oxymoron. I have a farm, and I think I'm currently doing permaculture things. If I'm to define what kind of farmer I am, I'm a grass farmer, and grow pasture. While I may not have grazing ruminants yet, they're coming, but I have some infrastructure like fence to repair and install first. Aside from pasture, I'm currently putting into place permanent agriculture. Just this afternoon I planted pawpaw trees. I also have perennial fruit bearing shrubs and more trees to plant. Next spring will come some other perennial and annual plants to support the trees and form guilds. It's a few things I'm doing right now starting my farm, but I don't think I currently have enough in place to qualify as a permaculture farm.

paul wheaton wrote:

I think the primary difference between "permaculture garden" and "permaculture farm" is scale.  And when you get to a big enough scale, people use more petroleum and contemplate the use of pesticides.  



I believe only conventional farmers that have been sold a method by agribusiness use more petroleum and contemplate the use of pesticides. Many farmers get to or already have a larger scale, and don't use poisons. I imagine some of these farmers who don't use any chemicals may be low on the wheaton eco scale, but others are much higher up, like Sepp Holzer, who in the first sentence in the preface of his book Permaculture, refers to himself as a farmer instead of a gardener. His land, The Krameterhof, is 45 hectares or about 110 acres, which I think is a farm and not a garden, though it does indeed contain gardens.

Further, Mollison makes it clear that one of the big functions of permaculture is to replace petroleum with people.   And once you do that, I wonder if you do better with the farm technique or with a whole lot of big gardens.



I believe both can work if people put their minds to it and I think pastured livestock is a good example for a farm technique. Removing the grazing animals from feed lots and putting them on pasture also removes the need to row crop thousands of acres of grain crops to feed those cows, which uses tons of petroleum. Now the cows feed themselves, on grass, and graziers don't need row cropping equipment or have to buy petroleum based inputs but instead have a farm managed by people. I believe there are millions of acres currently being row cropped to support feed lots that could instead be growing grass and have managed livestock on those acres.

Suppose we have a 20 acre "permaculture farm" and 20 acres of "permaculture gardens".   And each has 8 people living there full time.   Are they identical?   My guess is that they are probably very different.  My guess is that the farm has one leader and 7 employees with lots of row crops growing in literal rows.   I think that the gardens are probably five pretty active plots about one to three acres each with a lot of "zone 3" and "zone 4" that is pretty shared - and one person acts as a leader for the whole property, but provides very little leadership over four of the gardens - and strongly focuses on just one garden.  

That path for me smells like "permaculture gardens" and not "permaculture farm."  

Am I the only one that feels there is a distinction?



In the scenario you describe I do agree there is a distinction.
 
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We are developing our homestead using permaculture principles and practices.  I have a compact tractor that I'll be using at times, so I won't be eliminating the use of petroleum.  However, by growing as much of my own produce, eggs, and meat as possible I will be eliminating the use of countless gallons of petroleum products that would be used were I still buying all those items from the store.  Multiply that by having 20 people I know do the same thing and the dent gets even larger.

I don't know what to call a large scale permaculture "area"  When I hear the word "farm" I immediately visualize my grandfathers' acreage with row after row of the same plant of the same height.  I also remember being told to stay away from the fields and not play near them because they just got sprayed.  So to me "permaculture farm" is an oxymoron based on what the word "farm" came to mean to me during my formative years.  
 
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We consider our farm a "diversified permaculture farm".  It operates under permaculture principles.  We consider our property a farm and not a garden, because to us, a farm is a money making operation while a garden is for personal enjoyment.  While we enjoy what we do, it is still a money making venture.  I don't think it's an oxymoron to say "permaculture farm", but perhaps semantics.  You say po-TAY-to, I say po-TA-to.

Edited to add:
There are many farms that operate on less than .25 acre and they are making half decent money doing it.  Our government taxes farms, not gardens, therefore for all intents and purposes it would be considered a farm.
 
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I hope that the rise of the term "permaculture farm" means that the "farming community" is starting to move away from the "mega farm", to something more "human sized". I am prepared to consider that what Sepp Holzer, Mark Shepard, and Geoff Lawton do is permaculture, but they all refer to their land as a "farm".

I suppose to me, I would hope it would eventually mean that those "farms" could be realistically managed with renewable energy sources even if we can't totally get to the "human power only" in the short term. If that means an electric golf-cart to hold the boxes of fruit that's been picked by hand, rather than moving each box out of the food forest by wheelbarrow, I would feel that the spirit of permaculture was being respected. Maybe eventually, we will all return to the farm donkey or horse to do those things, but there's a huge learning curve.

I read an article about how the birth rate in Brazil has crashed. When people all moved off the farms to the city, children, who are a great asset on a farm for the work they do, become a liability. Replacing fossil fuel power with people power will require reversing the world-wide urbanization which has happened. It will be interesting to watch how it all plays out and if we can make the changes in both an environmentally and a civilized manner.
 
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paul wheaton wrote:In the last couple of years, I find myself cringing when I hear "permaculture farm".   It seems that people like permaculture, and they wanna farm, so why not mash the two together?  

In the spirit of "there are many schools of thought under the permaculture umbrella" I am putting my cringe into one school of thought.  So this cringe is really just me - although others are welcome to have the same feelings.  And I will not impede the folks grooving on "permaculture farm."  

I think the primary difference between "permaculture garden" and "permaculture farm" is scale.  And when you get to a big enough scale, people use more petroleum and contemplate the use of pesticides.  

Further, Mollison makes it clear that one of the big functions of permaculture is to replace petroleum with people.   And once you do that, I wonder if you do better with the farm technique or with a whole lot of big gardens.  

Suppose we have a 20 acre "permaculture farm" and 20 acres of "permaculture gardens".   And each has 8 people living there full time.   Are they identical?   My guess is that they are probably very different.  My guess is that the farm has one leader and 7 employees with lots of row crops growing in literal rows.   I think that the gardens are probably five pretty active plots about one to three acres each with a lot of "zone 3" and "zone 4" that is pretty shared - and one person acts as a leader for the whole property, but provides very little leadership over four of the gardens - and strongly focuses on just one garden.  



Both "farm" and "firm" (as in a business enterprise) come from the same Latin source. I don't think the difference is scale... but with a farm the intent is a business enterprise, not merely a subsistence garden.
The scale follows and becomes necessary to earn the added money to cover the costs of additional taxes, fees, expenses, employees; as well as expand to fill the calendar to maximize the earnings potential from a few high-value-crops, retain employees and customers, and smooth out "feast & famine" cycles of cash flow. Techniques such as row cropping allow for all sorts of efficiencies, which can help reduce costs, a big one being lower skilled labor. And besides, Ferds gotta get fed!

Richard Perkins from Ridgedale Permaculture in Sweden just recently said some relevant things in a Q&A video here: (at 18:33-19:37)

 
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We went through a similar thought process. For us it turned out to be all scale connected...

When we started we intended to produce something, that was coming from a "farm" way of thinking.

Then we learned we cannot compete very well with large scale oil based agriculture, because we can never feed so many people and we cannot produce for such low prices as the wholesale market pays without being absolute slaves to the system.

In the search for easier working circumstances on our very sloped terrain, we went more into landscaping than farming, also because with an improved landscape we create better options for nature to produce things by herself.

We then thought more of it as creating that food forest some people talk about a lot, except it is not becoming a forest either, it's more like a food park by the time we're done with things. You know, nice walkways and paths and easy roads with scattered trees and open spaces...

With all that landscaping and zoning and planting going on things are turning more beautiful. So now we had another angle: this is starting to be a nice place for people to visit, so tourism becomes a logical business.

And we then realized that although we cannot produce for wholesale market, we can produce for ourselves and our guests, the tourists, who can then pay us for a finished product: their breakfast and lunch, and at those prices we can produce with a profit.

So there: we went from thinking about creating a permaculture farm to wanting to be an eco tourism retreat based in a permaculture food producing park. It was in the end the only thing that made sense to us.
 
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There are semantic issues at work here, but I think overall it's one of perspective.

Paul, you've got a thing for food forests, it seems to me, at least to some extent, in the way you've got a thing for hugelkultur. They are two of my favourite tools in the permaculture toolbox. But even in my own planning, I see my enthusiasm for certain tools colouring the way I see permacultural design.

I think that "farm" can mean many things, and the specific filter you're picturing it with is the one labelled "Petrochemical-Reliant Conventional Agricultural Enterprise." But I don't necessarily link overall size or scale of operation with a decrease in permaculturality.

I like to think of designing in fractal patterns, whereby the large is just a macrocosm of the small. That way, the specific patterns may be altered by the environment or specific circumstances, but the overall shape and pattern functions in the same manner. This is exactly what we're doing when we discuss large permacultural operations consisting of checkerboard or patchwork intensive horticulturally-minded "gardens" grouped together for mutual benefit.

This is, of course, just my opinion, but I think that I disagree with the suggestion that "permaculture farm" is an oxymoron because it suggests that permaculture isn't scalable. It also doesn't make sense in conjunction with the historical definition of "farm," only these modern cancerous blob entities grown with petrochemicals.

So no, if my opinion is being sought. It's like the permacultural orchard question. The differences are semantic and without sitting down to define terms first, it is difficult to nail down what exactly is being asked or stated.

-CK
 
Rene Nijstad
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Chris Kott wrote:There are semantic issues at work here, but I think overall it's one of perspective.



I agree, it's both semantics and perspective. But there is something deeper here too. I find it difficult to explain but let me try:

In the past 5 years I've been increasingly looking at Earth as a "Paradise Lost". And how we as humans went on this crazy technology journey that brought us all kinds of everything only to loose ourselves in the process.

One key thing in this process is that we have learned to define everything in terms of business, economy, money, work, etc. So that's the general perspective, and it normally fits with goals of growth (personal or economical, or as in power). Because these are leading perspectives, we put any idea almost automatically inside of this worldview: anything that's invented could/should/will be turned into a business. And now business words (have to) apply to any new ideas.

If we start from the Paradise angle, it becomes a bit different. We no longer define things in economy so much, but more in nice, comfortable, efficient, non polluting or clean. Work is no longer a leading indicator, but enjoyment is, like we now have mainly hobbies instead of a job...

Now who in this paradise setup is still prepared to want to run a big farm? Big beyond our ability to do things ourselves, big as in really so far outside of the human scale that we have to use technology (or employees who WORK for us) to be able to do that. That's very different. I think this is an underlying viewpoint to question what a "permaculture farm" is exactly...

The real question to me seems: where do we want to go? I think we're in a transition from one paradigm to another. By necessity. But I am also convinced we need to very carefully look at where we are transitioning to. To me this subject is about that: where are we going?
 
Chris Kott
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The Paradise angle, in my opinion, lacks detail and specificity.

I strongly hold to a different view of economics than the idea that it's all broken and needs to come crumbling down, because that idea brings with it a lot of death.

I prefer to think of economics as the study of how resources move, with money being nothing more than a placeholder for actual goods. The reason the effects of the system have been harmful is that the scope of the system is too narrow, in that not all costs are accounted, with the most important oversights being social and environmental effects. If you incorporate actual costs for taking care of societal harm and ecological cleanup, it becomes profitable to increase the social welfare and to make projects and processes environmentally friendly from inception.

Again, let's be clear: we're not talking about money. We're talking about resources, energy, food, and person work hours. Money is just a place-holder. This isn't a problem of economics, but a problem of too focused a scope. It's a permacultural problem. If the social and environmental wastes are assigned dollar values that are then incorporated into the initial accounting, it ceases to make sense to allow those wastes rather than to feed them into another process, or not create them at all (as in, hiring people for other work rather than laying them off, and preferring wasteless processes, or those that generate useful feedstock, over generating waste through inefficient processes).

So what I am saying is that the economic system isn't broken to the extent described, only incomplete. Complete the system and it works. Make employers responsible for paying for life balance costs that occur because of work, like childcare and commuting. Make producers of commercially produced goods and the packaging companies that they employ responsible for the disposal of their packing waste, down to the plastic wrap on your lettuce heads or the zip bag that holds your oatmeal. These are just examples, but indicative of the way that costing out these holes in the accounting and making them part of the initial cost of production takes care of the whole issue.

And then we get to something like the Paradise state envisioned, but we have done it by taking concrete policy steps with regards to how we treat waste and inefficiency within the whole system. And we haven't needed to redesign the wheel, only modify the spoke pattern.

-CK
 
paul wheaton
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I watched the little bit with Richard Perkins.   Of course, the guy is brilliant and so it is difficult to say anything that is contrary to what he says.  And, yet I will.  

He suggests that if certain techniques were economically viable, then the big producers would do it.  Since they are not, then it is proof that they are not economically viable.  

I think that if that were true, then he would be restricted to only using techniques that other large scale folks were using when he started.   And yet there are many things he is doing differently - thus proving, to my mind, the opposite.  

Further, the sort of production he is doing is different than the sort of production I wish to be doing, or that I wish to encourage.  And it needs testing.  Lots of testing.   And in the testing, I think there will be hundreds of people that will perform the test and fail - and even then, that is not proof that it will never work.   Because I have seen a lot of systems fail, and then the exact same systems succeed - and succeed magnificently.  Clearly there are elements to be learned.  

I feel that hundreds of times throughout my life somebody says "impossible" and then I do the work and prove that it is not only possible, but a far superior solution.  

Millions of people grow magnificent gardens that produce more food than they can eat.   And those people have limited space for their garden.   I suspect that if they had 20% more growing space, those people would grow 20% more food.    

I wish to advocate for more gerts.   I wish to advocate for a 20 acre property that has 5 gerts and 5 others that serve other functions.   This doesn't exist yet, but I am trying to create an incubation space for it.   And I wonder if I can end up with greater productivity than richard and have happier people.    A tall order.  But I'm going to try.

 
Rene Nijstad
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I honestly don't know if our current economic system can be improved by making it account for more effects. I would not know who would be able to force this accounting on a system that is aimed at minimizing costs en maximizing extraction of recourses. But that is probably my limited capacity of thought. To me it seems we need some other system.

I believe our thinking is controlled by narratives. Economy and capital are just as much narratives as permaculture is. It's just how our thinking functioned, we need a story line. Because our paradigms are shifting, so will our storylines shift with them. Then there is one big difference between financial capital and natural capital: the first is based on money, which is an abstract construct, the second on living organisms, which are real.

I wanted to address the OP: is permaculture farm an oxymoron? I think it is, because farm implies business / economy comes first, and permaculture implies ecology and people come first. Just based on that it's very difficult to unite these.

And we have tried to unite these and we could not either. So as I wrote above, we could not even see permaculture as we apply it as a forest, but rather as a park. I guess that's why we're happy to have a big zone 5, because our land clearly wants to be a forest and in our park (zones 1 to 3) we keep disturbing it to grow our crops and to be able to move around.
 
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Rene Nijstad wrote:

I wanted to address the OP: is permaculture farm an oxymoron? I think it is, because farm implies business / economy comes first, and permaculture implies ecology and people come first. Just based on that it's very difficult to unite these.
grow our crops and to be able to move around.



"farm implies business / economy comes first, and permaculture implies ecology and people come first."

This seems like an assumption to me.  There is no implication that running a farm means that you must put the economics of the business first.  It's purely depended upon the owner of the farm and their values.  Personally, we place ecology and people above economics.  
 
Chris Kott
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Rene, what I am saying is that economy and ecology aren't in opposition. They aren't at odds. Economy and ecology aren't even narratives unless you bring them into the scope of politics, and everything gets distorted through that lens.

That the economy stresses efficiency is logical. Ecology does this too. Economics simply describes human activity through tracking the movement of resources. Why would you spend more resources or effort on a given task in a farm setting than you had to? If those resources, that effort, which are really the same thing, could be put to work doing some other necessary task, wouldn't that be better?

If the cheap and fast way of getting that farm task done turns your farm into a Superfund site requiring more resources in cleanup than the original project yielded, and if you're on the hook for the cleanup, how efficient is it really?

The same can be said of social costs. We just need to link the costs of social and environmental cleanup to the offenders taking the cheap and fast way out. It's not really that complex. To paraphrase my favourite fictional character, picking up the engine block of a car isn't complex, either. It's fucking heavy and a lot of effort, but pretty straightforward.

This is a lot like lifting an engine block.

-CK
 
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This is difficult for me, because growing up in the 1970's-1990's on a farm, we were looked down upon, despised even.

I remember a Army recruiter who would not take no for an answer, taking me to a restaurant so we could talk, and he asked me "if I wanted to do something for my country?" I said, "I think I already do", then I grabbed his plate, pulled it towards me. He looked at me, then his plate of food, then back at me, and I had made my point. Even the greatest army in the world relies upon farmers. He took me home, never said a word, and never tried to get me to join the Army again.

Then towards the end of the 1990's things began to change, and suddenly a person with two apple trees and a goat considered themselves to be a "farmer". In short, everyone suddenly wanted to be a farmer.

This was hard for me because I had endured the shame of the 1990's, of being a second class citizen that had no respect in school, from teachers, from society, anyone, and now everyone considered themselves to be a farmer. That is tough when they never endured the hatred we endured in the 1980's and early 1990's. So stupidly I set the standard "to be a farmer" at 100 acres. I am not sure why, but that seemed like a good sized area to me.

Now I have changed. I do not think that way at all. I have well more then 100 acres, but I know there are people who make more money than I do farming, and they just farm 1 acre. Yet my neighbor makes money farming and he has 3,200 acres. Myself, I think acres is a very poor way of stating whether a farm is a farm. I typically do not even say how many acres Katie and I own. I admit it is quite a bit, and when it seems there is a need to convey a sense of size, I might say "hundreds of acres", but really what does it matter? My farm is not 100% efficient by any means.

The USDA has the most accurate definition. To be considered a "farm" a entity must "try and get $1000 in profit per year from farming." Yes...that is all they require. You do not even need to make $1000, just try...and so a person could own no land, no animals, no equipment, and yet still be considered a farmer. How? They could rent every square foot of land. Rent animals. Rent equipment, etc...literally a person could be in a city and rent this stuff and still be a farmer.

As for farming versus gardening. What is old is new again. In the 1980's farmer was a dirty word. Then it became chic in the 1990's, and now that moniker has worn out and people want something else. I see no reason to replace the term with gardener. In about 10 years everyone will want to be a farmer again anyway, so just hold onto that title, and it will be in vogue again. In that way, it is like flannel...I just keep wearing it, and sooner or later it is back on the runways of Paris fashion again. (LOL)

As for gardening...I have nothing against the term. The "Victory Garden" was the ultimate winner during World War Two. Every nation had their forms of them...
 
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I don't see that they are necessarily contradictory, or in some form of opposition.

My personal view is that permaculture isn't really a "thing", or a set of particular techniques. Instead it is a lens through which people can look at the landscape under their care. I don't think it is unreasonable to claim that something is "permaculture farming", if the design of the system is based on those principles. The label "permaculture" says more about the decision making and planning process than it does about specific outcomes.

For example, when a farmer looks at livestock they may see animals that need to be fed and cared for. Where the permaculture farmer may look at those same animals and see a useful tool or resource to further his goal. Cattle can both restore land, and destroy it. It isn't the cattle at fault, but the paradigm being used to design their system.

Mollison's original work was written at a time when the options for mechanisation were essential "fossil fuels or nothing". We have come a long way since then technologically. Battery tools have all the grunt of their petrol counterparts, electric vehicles are becoming more and more widespread. Mollison wrote from a rational position of fundamental scarcity; "If we don't transition ourselves it will be forced on us when oil runs out". He offered a framework for operating in a post-oil world. Is it somehow "not permaculture" to design a system that incorporates permaculture principles, but still makes use of powered equipment?
 
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Although I don't feel that "permaculture farm" is anyway near as much an oxymoron as "sustainable development", I really, really want to support this statement by Paul Wheaton:

I wish to advocate for more gerts.   I wish to advocate for a 20 acre property that has 5 gerts and 5 others that serve other functions.   This doesn't exist yet, but I am trying to create an incubation space for it.   And I wonder if I can end up with greater productivity than richard and have happier people.    A tall order.  But I'm going to try.

Please keep trying because I believe this is an important model. It may not replace all the other models we need to transition this planet off fossil fuels and reverse the current dangerous extinction of plants and animals, but I believe that more Gerts would be an important part of any solution.
 
Kenneth Elwell
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paul wheaton wrote:I watched the little bit with Richard Perkins.   Of course, the guy is brilliant and so it is difficult to say anything that is contrary to what he says.  And, yet I will.  

He suggests that if certain techniques were economically viable, then the big producers would do it.  Since they are not, then it is proof that they are not economically viable.  

I think that if that were true, then he would be restricted to only using techniques that other large scale folks were using when he started.   And yet there are many things he is doing differently - thus proving, to my mind, the opposite.  

Further, the sort of production he is doing is different than the sort of production I wish to be doing, or that I wish to encourage.  And it needs testing.  Lots of testing.   And in the testing, I think there will be hundreds of people that will perform the test and fail - and even then, that is not proof that it will never work.   Because I have seen a lot of systems fail, and then the exact same systems succeed - and succeed magnificently.  Clearly there are elements to be learned.  

I feel that hundreds of times throughout my life somebody says "impossible" and then I do the work and prove that it is not only possible, but a far superior solution.  

Millions of people grow magnificent gardens that produce more food than they can eat.   And those people have limited space for their garden.   I suspect that if they had 20% more growing space, those people would grow 20% more food.    

I wish to advocate for more gerts.   I wish to advocate for a 20 acre property that has 5 gerts and 5 others that serve other functions.   This doesn't exist yet, but I am trying to create an incubation space for it.   And I wonder if I can end up with greater productivity than richard and have happier people.    A tall order.  But I'm going to try.



I've heard of the idea before, of a "community homestead" (my words... and I can't remember the attribution) that out of seven families, has one family being "full-time farmers" that are growing the food for all seven families, and the others would obviously perform other jobs (I imagine in an ideal world also most directly serving this community group, but that might not matter, one of them could be an astronaut) It sounds pretty similar.

Chris Kott wrote:Rene, what I am saying is that economy and ecology aren't in opposition. They aren't at odds. Economy and ecology aren't even narratives unless you bring them into the scope of politics, and everything gets distorted through that lens.

That the economy stresses efficiency is logical. Ecology does this too. Economics simply describes human activity through tracking the movement of resources. Why would you spend more resources or effort on a given task in a farm setting than you had to? If those resources, that effort, which are really the same thing, could be put to work doing some other necessary task, wouldn't that be better?



This is the point I was trying to make earlier, that once it goes from "homestead garden" to "farm" the rules change, and as Chris says, it's because of the politics. Whether it's money and taxes, or food safety standards, liability insurance, land use/availability/cost/location, etc...

I agree with what Michael Cox and Jay Angler and others have said regarding permaculture "farming". And whether you want to call it "regenerative" or "holistic" or "permaculture", the likes of Richard Perkins, Mark Shepard, Ian Mitchell-Innes, Greg Judy, Joel Salatin, Jean-Martin Fortier, Eliot Coleman... are far closer to the Gert end of the spectrum, than ConAgra, or ADM, or Foxy Brand lettuce for that matter... If Foxy can produce 1000's of acres of monocropped lettuce, and call it "organic" just by sticking to the OMRI list of pesticides, these other folks ought to get some latitude for using "permaculture".

Paul Wheaton wrote:I wish to advocate for more gerts.   I wish to advocate for a 20 acre property that has 5 gerts and 5 others that serve other functions.   This doesn't exist yet, but I am trying to create an incubation space for it.   And I wonder if I can end up with greater productivity than richard and have happier people.    A tall order.  But I'm going to try.



I think this is important, to create a model for others to follow. All those other folks who I named are doing the same with their models too. There need to be models all along the "Eco Scale" for people to follow, and hopefully a drive/desire towards being more "Eco", and solutions that are relevant/adaptable to many situations.
 
pollinator
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Interesting discussion. Because of this discussion,  I'd like to get feedback in regard of a farm sign I plan to make for next year. Some background.....

I have 20+ acres. I have diversified crops (veggies, fruits, livestock) that provide our food one way or the other. I also sell some which provides income to pay expenses and provide a small amount of income to live on. This place operates as a homestead farm. No, you won't find monoculture, nor row after row of crops. But as far as I can see, it's a farm. I had to educate my tax inspector because he couldn't see the crops at first. After walking the farm and pointing out the multiple layered "food forest", the bananas atop hugel style pits, polyculture orchard, the vast number of tucked away gardens, plus the obvious main garden. He appeared amazed that the farm contained so much. He decided that the place was obviously productive enough to fit into the farm category, no question about it. But since nothing was segregated, everything was all mixed up, as he said, he had a hard time deciding how to tax it. He wasn't able to just whip out a laser measurer and determine the acreage for each classification. He finally asked me how much I felt I had devoted to pasture, orchard, forage crops, and small crops, and he accepted my figures.

So this is why I feel confident calling my place a farm. So back to the sign idea. Would I be remiss to have a sign stating that this farm was a permaculture oriented homestead farm? More facts-- I use a rototiller. I do happen to use gasoline to run a portable generator to run hand tools and an irrigation pump. I do use propane to run a flamer. I use tools that were manufactured in some factory somewhere, and shipped via a boat to Hawaii. I use the occasional bags of commercial feed (when I leave the farm for a couple days.) I use an ATV daily on the farm. I use a pick up truck. Thus I'm not purely permaculture, no? I still use petroleum both directly and indirectly to a lesser degree. But on the positive-- I use hugelkultur to a benefit, I stack functions, utilize margins, use compost and mulch, oriented the farm using permaculture design principles, use farm supplied resources (firewood, lumber, catchment water, etc). And importantly, if the ships stopped coming to Hawaii tomorrow, the farm would carry on by just making a few changes.

Just how "pure" does one need to be deemed permaculture? Would Paul take all my pie away for making my farm sign?

Does Paul have an Eco-scale for farms?
 
T.J. Stewart
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Your farm sounds wonderful!  I think that it's pretty cool that you are seeking other "permies" opinions on your new sign name.  That said, you can call it whatever you want to call it.  You are the owner.  I wouldn't put too much stock in what other people have to say about your farm.  Everyone will have their opinion.  Go with what you like.  :)
 
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A Permaculture Garden to me sounds like subsistence farming with:
3 acres for vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, fruits, nuts, fish-pond, honey, and poultry-chicken.
1 acres for fire-wood/etc
If cattle is involve another 16acres for 3cows

A Permaculture Farm to me at best sounds like a Mix Species-Orchard, maybe a mix species PastureLand. But more than likely it is just 'organic/free-range farming' which is a very very low bar.
 
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My problem with people saying they have a permaculture farm or even the rockstar gardeners is that none of them actually make money on a level playing field, I do not know of a single one that does not take advantage of free interns (something I am vehemently against) sometimes those interns have to pay to be there. or does not make a significant part of their income from other sources, talks, books etc. All things that are not generally possible on a conventional farm, and most certainly cannot be scaled, not everyone can do them, there is a limited pool of people who can be interns and a slightly less limited market for talks/books.

Legally for me my place is a farm, anything over 4.4 acres can be classified as a farm just by calling the tax office, (you can do it under 4.4 but then you need to jump through hoops) The property is a registered farm, my business is registered as a food producer we are insured as a farm, and my income comes from the property. However you will not find a hugel bed, a herb spiral or a swale. I do use a 2 wheeled tractor. You will find mixed planting mature food forest and a ton of "weeds".

There is no money in farming of any type*, and permaculture vegetables take significantly more labour than row crop tractored ones. Since labour is the most expensive part of the farm it is the limiting factor. My parents in law run a lovely organic farm up on 10 acres of mixed vegetables, the only people who make money on that are the employees who get minimum wage. the owners also make around minimum wage in total, but they work 120hr weeks, we've not seen them in months.


So my conclusion is of course you can have a permaculture farm, just it will not make any reasonable amount of money, so it has to be run for a different reason.


*I wish to point out that my no money I mean no large amount of money without subsidies or "cheating" with free labour. I run my own farm and live off of the money, BUT I am quite aware that I would have a higher income working at McDonalds.
 
paul wheaton
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Jay Angler wrote:Although I don't feel that "permaculture farm" is anyway near as much an oxymoron as "sustainable development", I really, really want to support this statement by Paul Wheaton:

I wish to advocate for more gerts.   I wish to advocate for a 20 acre property that has 5 gerts and 5 others that serve other functions.   This doesn't exist yet, but I am trying to create an incubation space for it.   And I wonder if I can end up with greater productivity than richard and have happier people.    A tall order.  But I'm going to try.

Please keep trying because I believe this is an important model. It may not replace all the other models we need to transition this planet off fossil fuels and reverse the current dangerous extinction of plants and animals, but I believe that more Gerts would be an important part of any solution.



I have learned that I am hard wired to try.  

Fortunately, there appears to be people living here now that have feelings about all this similar to me.   Similar to you.   Therefore we now have a stronger forward velocity.  

And then we have people that have full time jobs, but they come by for a week and say "just put me where you think I can do the most good."   And some people do this thing of showing up for a week and they bring great skills.  

We have people putting coin and care packages into the BRK for the boots.   And we have people that are sending things as part of boot love.  This is a huge help.  

And then all this needs coin, and the next big attempt at a kickstarter will, I think, be a book on PEP.  So a bunch of folks are throwing their shoulder in there to define BBs and brainstorm badges.

Of course, our forward velocity would be ten times greater if we had ten times more coin.  I'm still hoping that sales for the new book will pick up.


 
paul wheaton
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Su Ba wrote:Does Paul have an Eco-scale for farms?



Nope.  Maybe you would like to create one?
 
Su Ba
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Skandi Rogers wrote:My problem with people saying they have a permaculture farm or even the rockstar gardeners is that none of them actually make money on a level playing field, I do not know of a single one that does not take advantage of free interns



For most small farms that I know of, I'd agree with that. But there are successful exceptions. I suppose I just look at it differently.

As for making money in a level field, i believe that looking strictly at the cash in hand at the end of the year is being shortsighted. Most people look at businesses that way.  In my case, I see all the money that we don't lay put as being part of our income from the farm. (ps- I like how Travis figures his cash ledgers. Money not spent when it normally would be is considered in the positive cash column). We have no grocery, sewerage, water, heating, cooling, electrical bills. The farm built its own barns, greenhouses, fencing, and other structures. The farm bought atv's, trucks, trailers, rototiller said, and all other equipment. The farm pays the real estate taxes, the insurance. The firewood, rock, cinder, and lumber comes from the farm. If I weren't farming, all these expenses would have to be paid out of my own personal pocket. To do that I would need a "real job", as people call it. But I'm a farmer, so this is my "real job". And all the cash paid for those expenses, wherever actually paid out or listed as saving because the farm provided them, are "income".

Think of it this way..........I work at McDonalds and take home $100. On my way home I stop at the store and buy food with it. OR I work in my farm for an equivalent time (impossible to describe since food takes weeks to months to grow and mostly I'm not tending it while it does that) and I harvest my food as needed. My McDonalds job requires transportation and decent clothes, while my farm job requires neither. They are both jobs and I believe I could make equivalent "income" with either, although the McDonalds job will take more taxes from your paycheck, but also give you Social Security in the future (assuming it will still exist).

Plus there are non-tangible benefits that are difficult to define as income but surely involve money somewhere in the future. By permaculture farming, I believe that I am increasing the resale value of my 20+ acres. My rock laden scrubby land now hosts workable soil. Pastures now host grasses and forbs, which they lacked previously. Sustainable living systems are in place. The income payoff from permaculture farming will be when I sell this place. IRS will surely deem it taxable income.

As for free interns......I've had one wwoofer who I deem as fairly typical of the wwoofers in my area. Instead of making me money, I lost money in the long run. Most farmers around me feel the same way. A farm hand can be nice to have around, but when it comes to a financial benefit, most farmers around here have learned that wwoofers and interns are not worth it. They cost the farm money, mainly because of the time spent training and supervising them. That's not counting the damage they've caused and theft issues. To be successful with free labor, the infrastructure needs to be in place (that's an expense) and the supervision and trading needs to be fine tuned. If not, the farm doesn't financially benefit.

Of course I'm just talking money so far. There are other benefits to permaculture farming. The physical wellbeing, mental health and emotional factors. I've changed a lot for the better since I moved toward a more sustainable type of lifestyle. I have a lot less need to give my money to doctors. Maybe I'm just one of the lucky ones, but if so, I'm making my own good luck.
 
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I take oxymoron to mean a contradiction in terms. Permaculture is the best way to farm, so it can't be an oxymoron.  Permaculture oil refinery - now that's an oxymoron.
 
Rene Nijstad
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I posted a bit earlier and received a bit of flack for saying that I believe the words farm and permaculture are indeed contradictory.

I don't really have any emotional connection to the word farm.  I realize better now that other people have either an emotional connection to the words farm and farmer, and that other people have a practical connection, for example: do my activities qualify as farming in the eyes of the tax inspector or not? I think these are all very valid points because they have a very direct effect on the situation and the feelings of people.

The thing I bump into here is that it is difficult to communicate about anything if nobody can agree on what a word means exactly. It often seems to me that in turn that leads to  people just giving up on a conversation because nobody feels understood. That's a bit sad, especially if it happens between people who are on the same side of an issue.

Now Travis made a point when he stated his emotional connection to the words farm and farmer alongside his clear statement that he has nothing whatsoever against people who speak of gardens and gardening. I think he may have made a good point there.

Farm (Cambridge dictionary): An area of land, usually with fields and buildings, used for raising animals or growing crops as a business. Or: a place where fish or other animals are bred. (Then they take note of other farms: wind farm, puppy farm, etc, but it seems to me that the main motive of a farm, and thus defining its meaning, is always monetary profit). (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/farm?q=Farm)

Then I looked up "garden" in the Cambridge dictionary... Somehow that wasn't so clear.
Garden (yard): a piece of land next to or belonging to a house, where flowers and other plants are grown, often containing an area of grass
And they continue with another definition: a piece of land usually in a yard next to a house, where you grow flowers and vegetables. (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/garden?q=Garden)

Ok, so what does the Cambridge dictionary say about permaculture? It says: systems for growing crops, plants, etc. that cause little damage to the environment and can therefore continue for a long time. (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/permaculture?q=Permaculture)

To me, and that is personal, it seems that:
- A farm's main motive is monetary profit
- A garden's main motive is enjoyment
- permaculture's main motive is ecological sustainability

I say main motive, there can of course be secondary motives!

Does anyone have different definitions of the words in this thread? Did I make a mistake in defining these main motives?
 
T.J. Stewart
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Su Ba wrote:

Skandi Rogers wrote:

As for free interns......I've had one wwoofer who I deem as fairly typical of the wwoofers in my area. Instead of making me money, I lost money in the long run. Most farmers around me feel the same way. A farm hand can be nice to have around, but when it comes to a financial benefit, most farmers around here have learned that wwoofers and interns are not worth it. They cost the farm money, mainly because of the time spent training and supervising them. That's not counting the damage they've caused and theft issues. To be successful with free labor, the infrastructure needs to be in place (that's an expense) and the supervision and trading needs to be fine tuned. If not, the farm doesn't financially benefit.



My husband and I are currently taking a business planning farming course (that we should have taken about 7 years ago, but I digress).  Half of the class is made up of people who are not yet farming, but want to start. We had a speaker (who was a graduate of the class from last year) come last month and she that said something that I thought was cringe worthy.... and the facilitator agreed.  She was encouraging the new farmers to try to get an internship on other farms so that they could "make all their mistakes on someone else's farm".  She was talking about how when you do this you learn from mistakes that you don't actually have to pay for because it's not your farm.  CRINGE!  

 
T.J. Stewart
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Rene Nijstad wrote:
To me, and that is personal, it seems that:
- A farm's main motive is monetary profit
- A garden's main motive is enjoyment
- permaculture's main motive is ecological sustainability

I say main motive, there can of course be secondary motives!

Does anyone have different definitions of the words in this thread? Did I make a mistake in defining these main motives?



It seems that you are making assumptions when you state that a farm's main motive is monetary profit.  I have stated as much in a prior post.  This is relative to the farm owner and his/her values.  Just because you make money on a venture does not mean that making money is your main motive.  Said farmer's main motive could just as easily be ecological sustainability while making money off of the venture is secondary.  

Paul sells permaculture playing cards.  This is a business.  Is his main motive making profit from the business of selling playing cards?  If he figures out that he can make more money by selling playing cards that advocate using harmful substances to "care" for the land, will he start selling cards advocating that instead?  I do not believe that he would.  I do not know him personally, but the things that I have heard him say/read lead me to believe that making money from selling playing cards is not his main motive.  His main motive is ecological sustainability, making money from the playing cards is secondary.  
 
Rene Nijstad
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TJ, I don't understand. Where did I say that Paul claims to be running a farm and that thus his main motive is to make profit?

The only thing I was trying to establish is what meaning the words farm, garden and permaculture have, to figure out if there is indeed possibly a difference between them that is worth noting or thinking about. This subject resonates with me, because we went through a similar thought process.
 
T.J. Stewart
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You said "A farm's main motive is monetary profit."

In writing about Paul's business of selling cards, I'm making the point that just because you are making money from a business, it doesn't mean that money is your main motive.
 
S Bengi
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I am going to frame this from a social angle.
A permaculture business is one where income/wealth/surplus/power is return to the worker vs kept centralized.
So its closer to a coop or a franchise where ones income is $124,000 vs just $25,000.
Not only is wealth shared more equitable but so is freedom.
Long-term these people share/expose their way of life to descendant/family/friends/society and help create a culture where we aren't uber-shackled workers.
I like the fact that the gerts are able to make deductions for living expenses (Utilities, home-grown food, housing) vs having to report and pay taexes on it.
I like that they have more agency in what they do.
 
S Bengi
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According to the USDA farms with sales less than $100,000 on average don't make a profit. (81% of farms make less than $100k and show a loss of 2k). And farms that that the owner live on (Residence Farms) also don't make a profit on avg, instead loss $1,000 per year.
https://data.ers.usda.gov/reports.aspx?ID=17841

This seems to say to me that farms permaculture or conventional don't operate a a business that makes a profit if it is 'small'. I also think that it is safe to say that the smaller farmstead/residence farms are more likely to have a mix of plants for home and market sales vs the bigger more 'conventional' farm. So it woukd seems that farmstead are almost impossible to be viable farms.

In some ways permaculture farms are like non-profit farms we donate out of pocket for a 'loss' and we return the surplus vs make a profit.  We are continually re-investing and rejuvenating the place. So by design it is hard to extract a huge dividend/profit.

 
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I classify my farm as permaculture even though I use a tractor. What is this hang up over fuel so long as your fuel is renewable and can be grown on your own farm than I cannot see a problem. My tractor is "diesel" but powered by my own fuel produced of wood, oil seed rape and water.
 
Chris Kott
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Rene, as Paul has stated elsewhere, generating a profit isn't, of itself, inherently a negative thing. T.J. has indicated as much, and I agree.

If a system, any system, is to be sustainable in the self-renewing sense, there need to be returns to the system. We tend to think of systems in terms of economics, and thus, business, because we're still living organisms that need, little things like food and shelter, and the ability to put a bit aside against bad years, and so we build these entities, businesses and banks and such, so that we can quantify the value of our labours in a common currency.

Statistics say that many of these farming enterprises with under $100,000 in sales never make a profit. This means that nothing is returned to the system from that vein. And yet they keep going. To me that suggests that there are returns from these farms to the land that aren't accounted for, and they probably stem from innate regenerative practices, because they sure as hell don't have any extra cash to spend for expensive amendments or chemicals.

The suggestion that farming is profitable in the get-rich-quick sense, or really any sense, is sort of repugnant to anyone familiar with farming on the grassroots level. Whatever their EcoScale, these people work hard, and the system has been increasingly rigged against them for so long that any suggestion that they are profit-motivated sounds ludicrous in my ears.

Farmers are oft-maligned, and some of the hardest-working people around, and the better they farm, in the sense of ecological best-practices and humane treatment of animals, the harder their work. You can understand how any suggestion of wrongdoing could be negatively received. In actual fact, farmers are responsible for the widest adoption of no-till practices as the movement continues to gain traction. Connecting ecological best-practice with methods of increasing fertility for farmers to achieve better yields and, thus, have a better financial footing to continue doing what they do is actually going to be better than just pointing out what you think is wrong about farming.

-CK
 
paul wheaton
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I think if somebody wants to make money selling food they have grown, that is great.   If they can get millions of dollars in their pocket, that is great.  Some people choose a path where they earn less than a dollar per hour and they are happy - that's great.   And sometimes there is somebody that insists that isn't permaculture unless the person selling the food takes a vow of poverty - and I think that is NOT okay.  

That said, I think "farm" is a word that does imply profit.   Profit is good.   Profit is excellent!  

I think "garden" is a word that implies feeding yourself or feeding your family.   And that is also excellent!  And if your garden ends up producing more that you or your family can eat, then you might give some away or sell it.  And maybe even profit.  Excellent!

A bit within permaculture that I've heard said a few hundred times, and I've said it a few hundred time is "feed yourself first".  To me, that sounds more like the word "garden" than "farm."  

Next thing to throw into the mix is attempting horticultural stuff on a quarter acre, vs. 80 acres.   I had an urban lot and my passion for gardening consumed more and more of that lot.  And then I moved to a different urban lot that had more sun and deeper soil and I filled that lot.   And then I moved to 80 acres - the techniques were completely different.  

Here it is about 20 years later.   I think it is optimal to garden on an acre.  And then if you fill that with lush gardens, maybe have the option to expand to another acre.  When limited to an acre (with access to greater acreage for grazing) decisions tend to harmonize with gardening - how to romance nature within that acre.   And if you have 80 acres sporting the label "farm", decisions tend to be about optimizing production and profit for this season and suddenly some less than wholesome shortcuts start to look appealing.  

If you took that 80 acres and sprinkled in a dozen gardeners that each had an acre - and a few might eventually expand to two or three acres, and the whole dozen also had access to the full 80 acres for other projects (like grazing, or timber stuff), then, in time, (IMAAOO) the land will produce more food and more profit than if we started with the more farm-like approach.  

I think that this tiny bit of philosophy is the difference between "permaculture garden," "permaculture gardens" (emphasis on the "s") and "permaculture farm".

Just one steaming pile of my opinion.  And the core of what I am feebly attempting to share by starting this thread.
 
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Maybe it all depends on your definition of 'farm'?
But like you, Paul, a large entreprise (business) on many acres with one boss, employees and the use of heavy machines is not what I would call permaculture.
 
T.J. Stewart
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paul wheaton wrote:

Here it is about 20 years later.   I think it is optimal to garden on an acre.  And then if you fill that with lush gardens, maybe have the option to expand to another acre.  When limited to an acre (with access to greater acreage for grazing) decisions tend to harmonize with gardening - how to romance nature within that acre.   And if you have 80 acres sporting the label "farm", decisions tend to be about optimizing production and profit for this season and suddenly some less than wholesome shortcuts start to look appealing.  

If you took that 80 acres and sprinkled in a dozen gardeners that each had an acre - and a few might eventually expand to two or three acres, and the whole dozen also had access to the full 80 acres for other projects (like grazing, or timber stuff), then, in time, (IMAAOO) the land will produce more food and more profit than if we started with the more farm-like approach.  

I think that this tiny bit of philosophy is the difference between "permaculture garden," "permaculture gardens" (emphasis on the "s") and "permaculture farm".

Just one steaming pile of my opinion.  And the core of what I am feebly attempting to share by starting this thread.



With all due respect in your "house", Paul, it seems that you are making blanketed assumptions when you write: "And if you have 80 acres sporting the label "farm", decisions tend to be about optimizing production and profit for this season and suddenly some less than wholesome shortcuts start to look appealing."  Wouldn't this depend on the values of the farmer who is managing the land?  Maybe some farmers would want to take shortcuts to optimize productions and profit, but there are also some farmers who would not put production and profit above principles

"... in time the land will produce more food and more profit than if we started with the more farm-like approach."

We have established (at least I thought we did) that the word farm is basically implying that you are making money from the land that you are managing.  The word farm does not imply how you are treating the land, so what is a "farm-like approach"?  
 
Rene Nijstad
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Chris Kott wrote:Rene, as Paul has stated elsewhere, generating a profit isn't, of itself, inherently a negative thing. T.J. has indicated as much, and I agree.



I agree...I must have expressed myself very poorly, as it sounded that calling a farm primarily a business was a negative opinion. It's not, I'm just trying to call a spade a spade. People saying they farm at a loss might instead be gardening and be totally fine with it, and so am I. I don't have many negative opinions. To quote from my first reply on this topic:

Rene Nijstad wrote:We went through a similar thought process. For us it turned out to be all scale connected...

...

And we then realized that although we cannot produce for wholesale market, we can produce for ourselves and our guests, the tourists, who can then pay us for a finished product: their breakfast and lunch, and at those prices we can produce with a profit.

So there: we went from thinking about creating a permaculture farm to wanting to be an eco tourism retreat based in a permaculture food producing park. It was in the end the only thing that made sense to us.



We're also looking for a profit, for a decent return on our work from other people happy to pay us for it.

What I tried to express is that in my personal experience there is a scale problem to create a permaculture farm. Permaculture works great small scale with a specific niche market to cater to. That's a garden in my opinion, or a park as I called it before. And that by itself does not make me negative about ANY farming operation, especially not if the farming is done by people wanting to do things in a permaculture way.

I like it better how Paul described it some 50 minutes ago...way better than I managed to put it.
 
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