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A place for non-farmers in permaculture?  RSS feed

 
Tyler Ludens
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The impression often given here and on other discussion boards is that permaculture is just an alternative farming model, and that in order to practice permaculture one has to buy a bunch of acres and be a farmer.

Is there any place for non-farmers in permaculture? Or is permaculture seen only as an alternative farming model? I ask because I am not a farmer.

 
Judith Browning
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My husband and I do not call ourselves farmers (and we have forty acres of mostly wooded land). We adhere to the old organic philosophy to grow our food (and life) and from that base came our attraction to permaculture principles which, in my opinion, are really no different, they just apply new techniques. For us, it's our own principles that guide us but sometimes they parallel an actual theory or method we can believe in.
I am concerned about permaculture business models and sets of conditions that make living a meaningful life sound impossible or exclusive or too expensive or MARKET DRIVEN just like the word "organic" became once it was seen as a money maker by the business community, separated from its principles and became a marketing tool.

No, I don't think you have to be a farmer to practice permaculture.

Yes, I think non-farmers have a very important place in permaculture.
 
R Scott
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I see it MORE practical to the "non-farmer."

Small scale suburban yard is easy to implement. Larger "farm" scale lends itself to a one-time construction contract to build the system vs. reoccuring equipment use for modern ag.

 
J D Horn
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It seems to that there are, at the heart of this conversation, two basic groups. One is the homesteader, for lack of a better word, with a suburban or rural plot of land that wants to produce safe and nutritious food sustainably. They may or may not seek to monetize their surplus. The other group is mostly looking at broadacre permaculture, wondering whether it can truly rise to compete with BigAg. The only vocabulary available for referencing the competition between these two paradigms seems to be money/business. Broadacre permaculture necessitates consideration of capital needs in a way that homesteading does not. But when I look at both of these groups, I don't think "farmer" is right word to describe what they are doing.
 
Judith Browning
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J D Horn wrote:It seems to that there are, at the heart of this conversation, two basic groups. One is the homesteader, for lack of a better word, with a suburban or rural plot of land that wants to produce safe and nutritious food sustainably. They may or may not seek to monetize their surplus. The other group is mostly looking at broadacre permaculture, wondering whether it can truly rise to compete with BigAg. The only vocabulary available for referencing the competition between these two paradigms seems to be money/business. Broadacre permaculture necessitates consideration of capital needs in a way that homesteading does not. But when I look at both of these groups, I don't think "farmer" is right word to describe what they are doing.


I think I agree with what you just said except for "The only vocabulary available for referencing the competition between these two paradigms seems to be money/business". I don't see the competition.
 
Nicole Castle
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I say that without non-farmers, permaculture isn't going to achieve much on a macro scale. Let's say we get to 10,000 amazing 100% permaculture farmers in the US with 100 acres each. That's 1,000,000 highly productive, sustainable acres. But...the US has 2.3 billion acres in total, so as great of a number as that sounds, it's a tiny drop in the bucket. On the other hand, in 2002 there were 60,000,000 acres in urban areas (and it's probably more now).

While thriving permaculture farms can be leaders and show what's possible, we also need the residential acreage, park acreage and other kinds of land to be managed more sustainably.
 
Tyler Ludens
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That's a really good point, Nicole!
 
J D Horn
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Judith Browning wrote: I don't see the competition.


Just to clarify, I mean competition b/t BigAg and permaculture - not b/t the homesteader and the broadacre permies.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Is there a place for anyone who is not a homesteader or broadacre permie (aka "farmer") in permaculture? People thinking they need to buy a few acres to be a homesteader do not find it any easy thing to afford in spite of it being less capital intensive than broadacre. Are all permaculturists required to be homesteaders or broadacre?

For instance, is this homesteading, or is it something else: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48FwxBxCCHo&feature=player_embedded
 
Judith Browning
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Is there a place for anyone who is not a homesteader or broadacre permie (aka "farmer") in permaculture? People thinking they need to buy a few acres to be a homesteader do not find it any easy thing to afford in spite of it being less capital intensive than broadacre. Are all permaculturists required to be homesteaders or broadacre?

For instance, is this homesteading, or is it something else: http://permaculture.org.au/store/cartview.html?id=69



.The permaculture PRINCIPALS that I read seem very broad and could be applied to any ones life......
 
Tyler Ludens
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There seems to be a prevalent image of permaculture as having to do with large tracts of land, some kind of farming type thing (if not a hippie religion ). Even here at permies, "permaculture" is in the "growies" category, rather than a "design" category, so it looks like permaculture is strictly about growing plants and not about whole systems design based on ethics and principles.
 
J D Horn
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Are all permaculturists required to be homesteaders or broadacre?


Can a permie live in a highrise condo? Sure. Is that the end game for permaculture? I don't know. Can a high density human population (downtown NYC, London, Bejing, Hong Kong) ever be in line with care of the earth? I find it difficult to comprehend b/c large concentrations of human populations will always be an energy sponge in a manner that strains and outstrips local resources and the waste streams from high denisty areas are all but impossible to manage.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Some very high density places might not be able to function as a permaculture system and might not exist in a permaculture world. Seems like folks might want to try and see what works. Most people live in urban environments, so it seems like that would be the most important place to try to see if permaculture will work...
 
Nicole Castle
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One recent study found 5000 acres of vacant land in New York City, and that's before counting 1200 acres of usable rooftop, parks, greenspace and other potential growing areas. While that isn't a huge amount for the city, it is a large amount of land that could be productive and reap additional benefits for the citizens.

In some ways I think high-density living is more sustainable than what we have now, which is suburb sprawl, but that relies on reliable transit and wise management of non-urban spaces and urban waste. (I just have no desire to live that way!) I do think, however, that the largest cities can't be regionally sustainable.

I recall when I was visiting Germany that there were so many small cities/towns surrounded by farms and then by forest. Commuters could easily stop at the farmstands on the way home. I can't say how sustainable Germany is in general, but it seemed like a good overall model to me for balancing human habitation with the need for agriculture and wild spaces.
 
tel jetson
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very often lacking in permaculture discussions is everything that isn't growing things, but is still very important. how about permaculture blacksmiths to make the hand tools many of us favor? how about permaculture engineers to make the machines that others among us favor? how about permaculture practitioners who facilitate exchange of goods? how about permaculture undertakers? parcel delivery? physicians/naturopaths/herbalists? permaculture miners? permaculture clerics? permaculture interior designers?

I think growing things in responsible and thoughtful ways is the most immediately obvious endeavor of permaculture, but it's certainly not the only one, and I'm not even certain it's the most important one.

there are many occupations that I personally believe should not exist because they are necessarily detrimental to people and planet. there are also a whole lot of occupations that are far from necessary to our physical survival, but that if we found ways to do them more wisely and responsibly, could very well contribute to the quality of our lives instead of decreasing it.

just one example that springs to mind from the news: guitars. frequently, guitars (and other musical instruments) are mass-produced, or made without consideration of problematic sources of wood, or without consideration of the toxic solvents involved in finishes, et cetera. I have not heard a credible argument suggesting that guitars are a necessity for life (musicians' hyberbolic statements to the contrary not withstanding). but if instead of being treated as a commodity, guitars were all made by local craftsmen out of responsibly procured materials and non-toxic natural finishes and using truly renewable energy, our lives could be enriched by music without the negative consequences that are currently being made fairly public.

what are the things other than food, clothing, and shelter that you enjoy in your life? how are those things made? could they be produced and distributed in a manner consistent with permaculture's fairly vague ethics? chances are good that many of them could. I would hazard to say that even computers could be, though it would require a revolution in the industry on par with what we much more frequently suggest for agriculture.


I like growing things, and it's largely how I make my living. but I would very much like to see our crowd think very much bigger than that.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you, tel, that's exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to see in this thread.

 
John Polk
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I do not look at permaculture as another form of farming. I think of it as an alternate way of gardening (on a grand scale).

To my mind, "permaculture farming" is an oxymoron. Farming is meant for exporting large quantities of produce off of the land. Permaculture tells us not to consume more from the land than we need (the 3rd ethic). If a farmer exports 1,000 bushels of crop x, he has depleted his soil by a given amount of plant nutrients, and must replace those nutrients if he wishes to grow another crop. This means importing product to his land. The more you export, the more you need to import. That kills sustainability, as your land now needs continuous imports to remain fertile. Where is the permanence in that?
 
Isaac Hill
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Permaculture means "Permanent Agriculture" but it also means "Permanent Culture"... there is a lot more to culture than just farming. It's a design system that can, should, and will have to be applied to all facets of culture.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Seems like there are a lot of aspects of the design system which aren't necessarily gardening, such as rain harvesting, passive solar technologies, sustainable housing, etc etc. Seems as if permaculture could be discussed as a design system, it could have a wider audience than if it is just "gardening."......
 
Kitty Leith
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I am revisiting the possibility of homesteading after two decades of giving up the dream, so please forgive me for talking out of my arse, because I'm overly educated about stupid things and ignorant about a lot of what I need to do this, so I know my voice often comes across wrong...

Anyway, I have a hard time reconciling my self-centered desire to homestead and practice permaculture, because I know the lifestyle will feed and benefit mostly only me, and I can soothe myself the guilty pleasure because my carbon footprint will be small. However, I shudder to think of everyone on the planet taking up homesteading or farming as their choice method of permaculture because it would encroach on the natural systems which God (or whoever) has perfected, and because experiments on that scale could do a lot of damage. I'd much rather the masses keep their density and congregate downstream. Actually, it would be better if urban density increased and the suburbs were left to be reforested by permaculturists...

Totally agree with Tel and Nicole. I'm very much encouraged by recent attempts at urban aquaponics and vertical gardening. I think that urban settings are a new landscape and technology can help city dwellers create an urban permaculture: we can't all go back to Eden. I also like how these urban attempts are creating community and outlining how important and effective connectedness is for survival in a future with more demand and less resources. To that end, it's critical that we learn more how to cultivate and harvest what edible landscape can prevail under urban conditions. Obviously all those urbanites can't be farmers. But urban agriculture should be grown to support them, and urbanites should be educated to support urban farmers. There is also a huge space for affordable permaculture remediation in post-industrial urban blight areas like Detroit. As for non-farmers, I think this crappy economy is creating an environment where alternate, local economies can/are being taken seriously.

Ugh. It would really be more responsible of me to contribute in that way. I am selfish...

Fortunately/hopefully for me/us our currency-driven economy will dissuade most from flooding the edges and leave some property available for those of us who have the desire - and think we have the constitution - to design self-sustainable systems that can handle our impact. Hopefully there will be a balance between wilderness, homesteaders, suburb, and city and an appropriate permaculture solution for everyone.

 
Kari Gunnlaugsson
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I recently came across a (new?) essay by david holmgren that i think is very relevant to this topic. His answer to whether there is a place for non-farmers would be a resounding Yes!. He writes here about the critical role of the suburbs in an energy decent future...and provides some compelling arguments for why urban densification is not as desirable as we have thought.

retrofitting the suburbs for the energy descent future..holmgren

it's a bit of a read, but it's good...

(At the same time, I don't think farming is a four letter word. The world is going to need farmers too. IMHO the idea that each farm needs to be a perfect closed nutrient loop is too confining to be helpful. Nature doesn't recognize the lines on the map from the land titles office, and there are lots of nutrient transfers happening already which may be more or less subject to our control...wildlife, wind and water erosion or deposition, fire, leaching...and plant communities are actively making new nutrients available from parent material in the subsoil, fixing nitrogen and sequestering carbon. I think it is possible (if not very common) for a farm to to support the broader community of non-farmers by using nutrients made available by the farm system in perpetuity, ie without drawing down it's biological capital...i also think that some resource transfer between farms at a local level to support different enterprises may make sense in some situations...
 
John Polk
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The original question was if there was a place in permaculture for non farmers.
I believe there is a place for everybody, with the possible exception of farmers.
The farmers would need to forget almost everything they have learned, and do a total paradigm shift in order to fit into the permaculture world.

What a wheat farmer spends for his combine would probably be enough to set up dozens of us on small plots. We might not outproduce him in volume, but the nutritional value of our produce would far outweigh his. There is more to 'feeding the world's hungry millions' than merely filling freight trains and ships with cereal.

The design principals of permaculture can work on a small urban lot, or a typical (if there is such a thing) homestead plot.
I couldn't even imagine where/how to start on a 1,000 acre corn field on flat open grassland.
 
Kari Gunnlaugsson
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I don't disagree with you John. We might define 'farmer' differently.

I think we both believe deeply that non-farmers have a major role in permaculture.

In my mind a farmer is someone who produces more food than he needs, someone who's role in society is to produce food for others. Someone selling veggies from their backyard urban plot to the guy with two or three thousand acres.

I don't think we can get rid of farms in the near future. It's nice to envision ecotopia's but for our lifetimes and a few generations to come we will be dealing with a transition culture bringing itself back into line with sustainability. As it's set up, our culture needs specialists ( I.T. people today, or even if we really simplify there will be a need for carpenters and blacksmiths and harness makers and weavers etc etc etc.... and as long as we have specialists, we need farmers (another specialist) to provide food for them.

So rather than saying that there is no room for farming in permaculture, I think we need to ask how we can re-align farming towards permaculture principles and try to develop a truly sustainable agriculture. It probably means a great reduction in scale and increase in on-farm diversity. Broadscale techniques will necessarily be somewhat different from what you do in a single family garden, but to exclude farmers from permaculture doesn't seem helpful.

One other thought on social organization...if we were truly going to say farming is unsustainable lets be honest about where that takes us...it takes us to a place where society has no specialist classes and everyone is involved in primary food production.....i don't think there's a model for this that's not pre-agrarian so in my mind we're talking about re-wilding and living in a new paleo-lithic. Which would be great, sign me up, but it's going to be a heckuva bumpy transition that billions of folks wouldn't enjoy much...the skills involved in even living a 16th century lifestyle are too broad and encompassing for one family or small community to develop without having specialist classes supported by farmers...
 
Kari Gunnlaugsson
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John Polk wrote:
The farmers would need to forget almost everything they have learned, and do a total paradigm shift in order to fit into the permaculture world.




Amen. Lets get on it!
 
Tyler Ludens
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John Polk wrote:
I couldn't even imagine where/how to start on a 1,000 acre corn field on flat open grassland.



Maybe "Greening the Desert"
 
Judith Browning
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tel jetson wrote:very often lacking in permaculture discussions is everything that isn't growing things, but is still very important. how about permaculture blacksmiths to make the hand tools many of us favor? how about permaculture engineers to make the machines that others among us favor? how about permaculture practitioners who facilitate exchange of goods? how about permaculture undertakers? parcel delivery? physicians/naturopaths/herbalists? permaculture miners? permaculture clerics? permaculture interior designers?

I think growing things in responsible and thoughtful ways is the most immediately obvious endeavor of permaculture, but it's certainly not the only one, and I'm not even certain it's the most important one.

there are many occupations that I personally believe should not exist because they are necessarily detrimental to people and planet. there are also a whole lot of occupations that are far from necessary to our physical survival, but that if we found ways to do them more wisely and responsibly, could very well contribute to the quality of our lives instead of decreasing it.

just one example that springs to mind from the news: guitars. frequently, guitars (and other musical instruments) are mass-produced, or made without consideration of problematic sources of wood, or without consideration of the toxic solvents involved in finishes, et cetera. I have not heard a credible argument suggesting that guitars are a necessity for life (musicians' hyberbolic statements to the contrary not withstanding). but if instead of being treated as a commodity, guitars were all made by local craftsmen out of responsibly procured materials and non-toxic natural finishes and using truly renewable energy, our lives could be enriched by music without the negative consequences that are currently being made fairly public.

what are the things other than food, clothing, and shelter that you enjoy in your life? how are those things made? could they be produced and distributed in a manner consistent with permaculture's fairly vague ethics? chances are good that many of them could. I would hazard to say that even computers could be, though it would require a revolution in the industry on par with what we much more frequently suggest for agriculture.


I like growing things, and it's largely how I make my living. but I would very much like to see our crowd think very much bigger than that.


We were fortunate to have landed in a craft and music oriented community in our twenties. There are now high quality potters, woodworkers blacksmiths, bucket coopers, beadmakers, weavers and spinners and dyers, instrument makers, chairmakers, gunsmiths, jewelers, basket makers in the area...many earning their living as craftspeople and from teaching their skills to others. We are able to trade with some for things we need or just would like. The downside I guess is the tourism industry that supports a local economy like this (to cater to that our little town now has two stop lights , four fast food places and a "hyper" mart). The area has changed from being a back to the land destination in the seventies to a retirement destination for those looking for low land prices and taxes and bluegrass music .
There are a lot of organic growers, some permaculture but a very small farmers market because of the difficulty growing more than ones own food here.
It is a very loose group of independent minded craftspeople and food growers and folks from all other walks of life. I can't picture any single organizing principle that would bring us all to the same page. But these are the folks who play the benefits and donate to silent auctions and feed the hungry in the community and provide for those who lose a home to fire , etc.
 
Ben Stallings
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It is my understanding that the Transition Towns movement was started by non-farmers who were frustrated by permaculture's emphasis on farming. Although the PDC curriculum contains a section on "invisible structures" (i.e. social structures), this section is usually covered on the last day when everyone is tired and eager to get their hands dirty (or go home and take a good shower...). Transition puts the emphasis on invisible structures with gardening/farming as just one minor aspect of Transition.

So is there a place for non-farmers in permaculture? Yes, it is called Transition.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Transition is a great thing, and I support it! It is not so helpful for those of us not living in town, though......

http://www.transitionnetwork.org/

http://transitionculture.org/

http://transitionvoice.com/
 
Dale Hodgins
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To me, one strawberry pot on a balcony is a little farm. Add a sprouter for your alfalfa and wild harvest from roadsides and you're a mixed farm. Sell a bean sprout and you're a small commercial grower.
The smaller the operation the greater the chances that all production will serve your local market and inputs will be pure and natural.
 
Simonne Macklem
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Dale Hodgins wrote:To me, one strawberry pot on a balcony is a little farm. Add a sprouter for your alfalfa and wild harvest from roadsides and you're a mixed farm. Sell a bean sprout and you're a small commercial grower.
The smaller the operation the greater the chances that all production will serve your local market and inputs will be pure and natural.


I just discovered this here and I have to say I love it! Thanks for that. I think if we all thought of ourselves this way, and acted on it with that kind of mindfulness, it would be transformative!
 
Dale Hodgins
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Simonne Macklem wrote:
Dale Hodgins wrote:To me, one strawberry pot on a balcony is a little farm. Add a sprouter for your alfalfa and wild harvest from roadsides and you're a mixed farm. Sell a bean sprout and you're a small commercial grower.
The smaller the operation the greater the chances that all production will serve your local market and inputs will be pure and natural.


I just discovered this here and I have to say I love it! Thanks for that. I think if we all thought of ourselves this way, and acted on it with that kind of mindfulness, it would be transformative!


Thank you Simonne and welcome to the forum. Be sure to fill out the section that lets us know where you live and a little about your situation. It's handy to know whether a person is on a glacier or in a tropical rain forest whenever plants or bugs come up.
 
tim rew
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tel jetson wrote:what are the things other than food, clothing, and shelter that you enjoy in your life? how are those things made? could they be produced and distributed in a manner consistent with permaculture's fairly vague ethics? chances are good that many of them could. I would hazard to say that even computers could be, though it would require a revolution in the industry on par with what we much more frequently suggest for agriculture.

I'd love to be more a part of "permaculture computers" but despite a BS in computer engineering and 10 years of programming and plenty of computer repair experience, I feel like the only option at this point is just trying to reuse as much as possible for as long as possible, and ensuring the truly broken stuff goes to a reputable recycler.
The things that computers, and now tablets, phones, and everything else have in them (rare stuff like indium for touch screens) and the really caustic stuff used to manufacture microchips, are just about the opposite of sustainable or permaculture or anything like that. I'd love to be able to go to the local computersmith and get the latest biodegradeable microprocessor lovingly 3D-printed into a carbon-based touchscreen honey-bee-safe cell phone with a bamboo case and a fuel cell that can run on apple juice, which can connect to a minimalist, decentralized peer to peer "internet" that requires very little infrastructure. Hell, I'd love to be that computersmith. But alas, I have no idea how to bring any of it about. Unlike a revolution in agriculture, which we can at least initiate a small piece of all by ourselves, there just doesn't seem to be much of an opportunity to initiate a revolution in computing right now. Maybe someday, hopefully someday soon.
 
Ernie DeVore
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I've pondered over this thread somewhat and I'm going to ask a difficult question. Think it through carefully and know that I mean no offense.

If you're interested in nature, permaculture methods, and sustainability ... why would you NOT want to be a farmer?

I'd rather live in a plywood shack on a remote piece of rural property and DO things than sit in the city all day long and dream about it. Picking up a piece of agricultural land is not that difficult or expensive and there are many, many ways to do this without shelling out big bucks. If this is your interest then time is wasting!

That said, there are plenty of permaculture techniques and methods that lend themselves well to backyard gardening. Even if you only achieve 5% food independence in a small backyard plot or community garden bed then you're still getting some great exercise, entertaining your mind, and engaging in something healthy and productive.

At the very least, the non-farmers who can appreciate permaculture can open their wallets and buy the food of the permaculturists who are struggling to make a living at it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ernie, if you're addressing the person who started this thread, I have land (20 acres) and raise some vegetables and chickens. I also have sheep. I do not consider myself a farmer. I do not want to be a farmer because I do not think I'm very good at growing food. It would be an insult to farmers to call myself a farmer. I consider myself a gardener.
 
tel jetson
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Ernie DeVore wrote:
If you're interested in nature, permaculture methods, and sustainability ... why would you NOT want to be a farmer?


dif'rent strokes, Ernie. there is plenty of useful work that isn't farming, and some folks enjoy that work more than growing things.
 
Ernie DeVore
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Ernie, if you're addressing the person who started this thread, I have land (20 acres) and raise some vegetables and chickens. I also have sheep. I do not consider myself a farmer. I do not want to be a farmer because I do not think I'm very good at growing food. It would be an insult to farmers to call myself a farmer. I consider myself a gardener.


Well, it was a generalized address but we can discuss it.

I'm not a farmer either, per se. I'm a knifemaker and beekeeper. However, the only way I can survive as a small craftsman is to provide at least 80% of our own food and sell some meat on the side. I do not try and sell vegetables. People don't pay well for vegetables because they don't know what's good for them. Let them eat their crappy Walmart veggies for all I care. I do sell meat. The best use of last week's turnips is to feed them to a pig and then at the end of the year you only have a pig to sell ... and people will knock down your door and BEG to give you money for good organic pork where you would have had to tie them to a chair and torture them to even take your turnips for free.

I practice permaculture because it's an energy efficient system. The acres I live on are essentially a giant solar-collecting machine. The sunlight that falls on us needs to be channeled towards me, the producer. Plants are good for this. Livestock are good for channeling the energy captured in plants that I either can't or don't want to consume myself (such as grass). A pig is like a big food battery ... you charge it up in the summer when there is excess and draw on it during the winter when there is a shortage.

My wife once noted that our gardens seem to be primarily focused on growing side dishes for the meat we produce. That's exactly their purpose. That, and pickles. I love lacto-fermented pickles and you can't just go pick them up at the grocery store. You have to make them or sweet talk someone else into making them for you. Most of the really good things to eat can't be found in the grocery store.

Every dollar saved is equivalent to a dollar earned. If I grow five pounds of potatoes then that saves me some money. Plus, it's technically interesting to grow plants. My early training was as an engineer and I find that biological systems dwarf any man-made system for complexity and interoperability. There is more complexity in growing a tomato plant over a single season than in all of the billions of lines of code of software or the million nuts and bolts that comprise the space shuttle. I could happily spend whatever of my life remains just trying to figure out exactly what magic combination of water, soil, and sunlight makes the sweetest grapes.

 
Tyler Ludens
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I also make things for a living, but my present business does not use sustainable materials (too much plastic) so I hope to eventually figure something else out.

 
Michael James
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I also make things for a living, but my present business does not use sustainable materials (too much plastic) so I hope to eventually figure something else out.



What do you make?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I make realistic animal replicas, puppets and specialty costumes for the entertainment industry. There's not a practical way to make it sustainable, I can't construct them out of my sheep's wool.... :p
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