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conundrum: am I being selfish by saving my money to buy land and start a permaculture farm?  RSS feed

 
Emily Aaston
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I am at a place now where I am beginning to question my goals, and I need some perspective. First, I will give a little background: I am 29, and am still living a nomadic lifestyle. I work 6 months out of the year as an NPS Park Ranger/trail worker and have spent many of my winters using my earnings to travel on the cheap in places like Africa, New Zealand, Nepal, Central America, the Middle East, Europe. I lived out of my backpack, camped, WWOOFed on many organic farms, visited villages and hiked a lot. I love hiking and have taken 2 of my summers off to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail (2600 miles) and the Continental Divide Trail (2700 miles). In my travels and WWOOF experiences I discovered Permaculture and knew it was for me. My boyfriend is in the same boat and we are in it together. A little over a year ago we discovered Permies and Paul's podcasts and have listened to about 100 of them. In one of those podcasts he encourages those of us who want to buy land to save our money and live like paupers. So that is what we have been doing. We are very frugal, make all of our own food, are going to try to grow some food even with our nomadic lifesyle and we have a land fund that is slowly growing. The problem I run into is that sometimes Permaculture isn't cheap. That is, I agree that we should have to pay for some of this information. I am infinitely grateful for all of the free information that Paul has offered, and I do support causes within my budget and am steadily growing my permaculture library. These books add up. We have also splurged a couple of times to go to valuable workshops, which we have found to be worth it.

We are hoping to buy land (20-40 acres) as soon as possible to have a place to provide all of our own needs and eventually the needs of our family, friends, and whoever else may end up there. As is common, we plan to provide an education center to spread the permaculture word. I found out about the amazing conference (Permaculture Voices) that is coming up this next spring in my neighborhood. We thought: we have to go to this! The biggest meeting of permaculture minds all in one place, and in our own neighborhood? But when we saw the price we knew it was out of our budget. It seems the trend now is to put permaculture in the mainstream, which is AWESOME, and ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. But I feel like somehow there is a disconnect for me. Some of us have to work from the bottom up and really do have to live a pauper-like life to be able to save the money needed to get started. I just hope that information won't gradually become only for the rich. Or should I be spending big chunks of my money for invaluable education opportunities?

I was wondering today: am I being selfish by wanting a farm to support my family and small community, or should I be focussing my efforts on finding a way to use my gifts in the mainstream to spread permaculture on a much larger scale? I have a feeling that some people are meant to change to world on a larger, more visible scale that permeates the way our society operates today, and perhaps others of us are meant to change the world on a smaller scale. I am hoping to get some input on this. I want to know if being a pauper at this stage in my life is acceptable, or should I have a bigger goal? Thank you!
 
Ben Plummer
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Emily Aaston wrote:am I being selfish by wanting a farm to support my family and small community

If you are feeding yourselves, your family and your community, at that point, what will stop you from tackling something larger?

I think when humans have satisfied their basic need of food and shelter, we are very generous with the excess and happy to give it away to other people. Lovely chemicals get released in our brains and we get high. It is innate, it is how humans have survived and thrived for a million years. We can't survive without our neighbors and our neighbors can't survive without us.
 
Tom OHern
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The Permaculture Voices conference is cool, but I don't think anything groundbreaking is going to happen there. There might be announcements that happen there, but anything that is announced, will quickly be disseminated down to the rest of the community. Yes, it would be awesome to get to listen to those folks, but for those of us with shovels in the ground, it is of little importance.

Don't worry about it. You and your boyfriend sound like you are on the right path and I would stay on that path if I were you.
 
Miles Flansburg
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I am with Tom, I would love to go too, just to be a groupie ! I am sure I would learn a lot too. But I am learning so much here at permies that I can hardly keep up as it is. It sounds like you two have a great background with all of this permacultural stuff and I think that if you ever get a place to practice the things you have learned, you could end up having a place that does change the world, just because it is such a great example. You are young and on the right path. Pauls advise is good. Don't give in to temptation. Get your land and you will change the world!
 
R Scott
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How can you truly help others if you can't take care of your own?

You don't have to travel around the world to save it or try to save it all at once.

Fix your little corner first, then help others. Teach by example, share surplus, just be a neighbor.



 
ellen kardl
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I have to say, almost $900 is a pretty shocking price for this 4 day conference. $1500 "at the gate". No refunds either. And then all the travel and accommodation expenses You'd be much better served, if you had that kind of money (I sure don't!), buying a flock of fruit trees or putting it into the garden in other ways, or in your case, putting it aside for the eventual purchase of your property. I just think that's crazy-money.

There are so many free ways to obtain information these days, just don't worry about it that you might miss out on something.

On your other question about being selfish...where are you getting that feeling? I don't see how there is anything selfish in any of what you've outlined.
 
Nancy Sinclaire
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I do not know the answer to your question, mostly because I can not figure out what it means.

If your interest is in attending the conference then a possible way to get an invite is listed here: Pick up the phone or go and visit in person. Chat a bit and then chat a bit more. Ask good questions. I believe it is common at many conferences no matter the topic to have many speakers and some of the topics are not in the direct vein of a specific topic but sideline topics. Surely people interested in permaculture are also interested in different live styles. Especially today I would think a speaker on "How to not spend $250,000 on a college and still get a world class education" would be a great topic. Often speakers get to hang around to hear the other speakers at the conference. If you call up and ask I bet there might be a couple of spots for volunteers who get discount tickets. Perhaps they do not have all of their speakers lined up and you have contacts that might match up with their needs. I would think there would be value to other participants just to hear your questions after the seminar of the speaker since you have such an interesting background of travel. I hope you get to attend. If not then the information will be in the world and us here on permies will hear about it only a month later.
 
David Livingston
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For me the réal conundrum is that many people seem only to make a living out of permaculure on a sort of pyramid selling thing IE selling courses about permiculture
If permiculture is so good why do they néed to?
For me its 80% I am aiming to produce 80% of my food because I see to produce that final 20% will require 100% more effort And there are only so many hours in the day.
I agree with Scott above buy your land be a good neighbour spread the word that way .

David
 
wayne stephen
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What better way to spread the word about permaculture than to demonstrate a working model . Carl Sagan said " Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence ". To most , permaculture makes extraordinary claims . Show them how it's done. Never feel guilty about prosperity { Unless you stole it all }.
 
Ken Peavey
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I don't see being selfish conflicting with virtue. There's no rule saying you must be virtuous. Selfish is not a bad thing. You have to look out for yourself. If you can't look out for yourself, you won't be able to look out for someone else. Selfish is a fine starting point. You've taken on permaculture as an ideal and made it your own. You want to live your life by your own ideals and this is somehow selfish?

I'm totally missing the boat here.

You want to steward a piece of the world, keep it natural, help it grow, sustain yourself, plus friends and family, plus the place will have space for others who can learn and propagate these ideals, all the while contributing to saving the planet from the shortcomings of civilization and leading by example.

If that's what selfish is, I'd like to see a whole lot more people become selfish.
 
Emily Aaston
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Thanks everyone for the comments. I have given this some thought this week and think I may be able to explain myself better. I agree with all of you, and think that saving money to buy land is not a bad thing, and even if it is selfish, maybe being selfish is not always bad.

The hard part for me is when I exit my "permaculture bubble" and see how much dire need there is for change in the rest of society. It is easy for me to focus in on my own frugality and life choices. I take great care not to produce much waste, reuse, and find uses for most of what I consume. It just strikes me as insignificant when I go into the city and see large corporations producing incomprehensible amounts of waste that make my small efforts pale in comparison. It is then when I think that more of us should be infiltrating our society with innovative ways of reducing consumption and waste. And I wonder if I should be re-focussing my efforts on "something bigger" like setting up gardens in schools and communities, somehow changing big corporations. What Paul is doing, for example, is admirable. Building an empire, finding ways to spread permaculture as far and wide as possible, and starting a farm to demonstrate it. I suppose it's just irritatingly difficult to see how much damage is being done on a large scale, while what I am doing seems so small. I will continue to save money for land and start a permaculture farm, but does anyone else feel bogged down by the overwhelming amount of change that needs to happen next door? I do think some people are more suited for large-scale projects but I am wondering if anyone else has found ways to infiltrate society on a larger scale, while maintaining a small farm.

As far as things like the Permaculture Voices conference, that's another story. I know that it won't be the end of the world if I don't go, and there are plenty of other opportunities out there that will align with my frugality attempts. But I also hope that there can be more scholarship money and funding leading people toward these types of events. There is enough grant and scholarship money out there for traditional college education, but I hope money can shift toward permaculture events like this one. I am in the process of thinking this through.
 
ellen kardl
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Oooooh now I get it. It was sounding to me like some kind of misplaced family pressure. Yes, I struggle with that ALL the time. There are huge issues in the world that need attention, and it seems selfish to not give 100 % attention to issues like, for instance, Bangladesh garment factory workers dying in scores from horrendous conditions, just to name one. That's how I feel, anyway. And there are thousands of problems, many that can be solved or at least ameliorated by "boots on the ground", many here in this country. I want to be part of the solution to things like that. And I DO feel selfish to not have done more in my time on earth.

You can do both, but just not at 100% simultaneously. Your goals are good, a positive thing for the world. They are personally focused, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. That's one way to go. It also won't hurt if you put them off for a year or so to devote time to other causes at 100%, if you feel called that strongly. I'm assuming you are young—this is the time to do stuff like join the Peace Corp, etc., before you get tied down with property, kids, jobs, etc. It's unlikely that you'll be in a position to devote yourself to stuff like that when you are older. In theory, they (Peace Corp and other similar organizations) will take older people such as myself (nearing 60), but you have to be in better health than I am (I looked into it after I lost my farm and was footloose and fancy free--sort of).
 
R Scott
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You want to infiltrate ENEMY TERRITORY. That is not a safe place for anyone, so you better have your stuff 110% together and be absolutely sure of your principles. Even then 99% won't listen and some will be downright hostile. You cannot FORCE someone to believe. Don't waste your energy on those that will not hear.

LIVE by your principles. If your principles are true, it will work out in the end. Even if you don't see it.



 
Emily Aaston
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So, we are just reading sepp holzer's Desert or Paradise and the last paragraph seems to ring true with this topic:

"What do we need to save the earth? We need farmers as teachers with practical knowledge to educate the rest of the world, and to teach respect and co-operation with nature and all creation. Theorists and narrow-minded fanatical activists often do more harm than good as they actually play into the hands of the greedy industry. A self-reliant, independent, small-structured farming community is our best guarantee for a holistic, natural agriculture. It creates opportunities for people from cities to visit and to learn about nature. Educational farmsteads can convey traditional farming knowledge. A farming university can teach traditional and new methods of natural agriculture. Only humility and respect towards nature will enable us to restore paradise."

This is encouraging, and the kind of confirmation I was looking for. Not that it's easy for me to see the waste and destruction of our society. But I guess the better way is to not be angry at bad people, and do good things in humility.
 
wayne stephen
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Choose your battles .
 
Adam Klaus
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Lots of really solid advice above, perspective and wisdom that I certainly benefit from. My thought- Dont spend money for knowledge, IME it just doesnt work that way. You are just paying for access, knowledge of the truest sort is always given for free by those who know. Like yoga teachers in India, if they charge a lot, you must question what it's really about.

One thing that hasnt been commented on is your dream of owning 20-40 acres. My wife and I have been on a decade long journey similar to the one you are on. Eight years ago we bought 12 acres. That is a lot of land when you manage it intensively with a permacultural mindset! It was really and truly too much to handle at first. In time we began raising a herd of dairy/beef cattle, which use about 7 acres of our farm. If not for the cows, I would say that 5 acres is plenty of land for most permacultural pursuits, at least to get started with. In many ways we got the cows because we had the excess land, not the other way around. On our remaining 5 acres, we have our home and barn, chickens and pigs, a half acre garden, an acre orchard, two acres of native woodland, and one acre trout pond and wetland. And we are still massively under-utilizing that land area. And we have worked endlessly for 8 years to get to this point.

Given how crazy expensive land is, I would reccomend considering just how much of it you will need for your permaculture farm. You can always purchase more at a later date, from neighbors or whatnot. But initially, the cost of your land will be a very large obstacle to overcome. Additionally, you only have so much time and energy to manage that land. If you are applying the principles of permaculture, a little space goes a long way! Having too much land to manage will impoverish every acre you own, so it is much better to be a little bit smaller, with energy and money to spare.

Good Luck!!! I cant say that enough! This is a wonderful path, harder and more fulfilling than you can imagine. Dont worry about all the stuff outside your control. Work within your life to create the world you would like to live in.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Emily, Sepp is a good mentor to look for answers. He has been fighting for decades. He leads by example. When someone argues he can show them.
Most of the companies that you are talking about only care about money. If we can show them ways to make money using permaculture, like Sepp does, and you can, than maybe things will change.
Companies also react to the market. The more individuals that you can show an alternative way to, through your "small" actions, the more individuals will demand different products from those companies. They will have to change or will die.
 
ellen kardl
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I would reccomend considering just how much of it you will need for your permaculture farm.

Yes, this is a great recommendation! Unless you absolutely MUST have "buffer", five acres is a whole lot of land to maintain.
 
Emily Aaston
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As far as land size is concerned, we have gone back and forth about that. We definitely plan to have animals with lots of pasture and had anticipated designating a large portion of the land to remain untouched and forested. Unless we have a plot bordering Forest Service? We'd also like to build a number of tiny homes to house a community, and these family members and friends may end up wanting to have their own growing spaces. I guess I'm still set on more acres to incorporate forested areas, pastures, and the potential for more people to live on the land. I will have to do more research.
 
John Polk
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A word of caution regarding building multiple dwellings:

Most land is governed by the tax man, and zoning commissions - even rural land.
Check the tax records for any property you are interested in.
If it states something like "Single family dwelling" on it, you will have restrictions built into the property.

Renting those extra buildings (even for only $1 per year) would require a zoning change (if even possible), and subsequent years, you would be taxed at the higher "Multiple family" rates.

Each state/county will have their own regulations. Check before you buy. Better safe than sorry.

 
Adam Klaus
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Good point on seriously researching county zoning regulations and tax issues. The man doesnt care if you are doing a good thing. Not a fight you want to lose.

Having Forest Service or BLM as a neighbor is not all good. At any time, these Federal land managers can decide to do something very unsavory next door to you. FS and BLM are particularly agreeable to various industrial leases, such as mining, logging, etc. More so than with a conventional neighbor, who is required to follow various county protocols, the Feds do largely as they please when it relates to their lands, and are typically good friends with big industry.

In my agrarian paradise, the BLM recently has started leasing mineral rights for gas development. This is new, no history of gas fracking in our valley. Neighbors who once treasured being adjacent to the BLM wilderness are now mortified to imagine gas wells 250' from their homes. This is happening without any concern for democracy or local government. BLM and FS are great neighbors when they are absentee neighbors. When they show up, the news is never good.

Another example of their questionable value as neighbors has been their wildfire mitigation work. Both BLM and FS in Colorado are big fans of 'hydrochipping', which basically decimates all vegetation including century-old trees, for the sake of reducing wildfire risk. So vast forested areas, that used to be right out my neighbors back windows, have now been devestated into disgusting wastelands of woodchips. Sure, your private neighbor 'could' do something like this on their private property, but generally, only a big government agency has the resources to make such radical changes to the landscape.

With the Feds as your neighbor, it is definitely a case of 'buyer beware'.
 
Emily Aaston
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Thank you for the good advice. I am aware of zoning laws and have heard a few ways to work around that, but I will continue to research. I have also worked for the Park Service for about 12 years and am not always happy with the way they, and other land managers are dealing with public land. Definitely good reminders, and perhaps another reason for me to get more land, to have more space to keep forested areas untouched.

I will keep reading sepp holzer, listening to Paul's podcasts, and working on farms until we find a place that seems suitable. Thank you for the help in thinking through the difficulty of knowing the best way to make a difference in the world with permaculture knowledge.
 
Kitty Leith
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Hi Emily,

Oh man, I sooo relate to this conflicted feeling. Especially when I see people living in food deserts and having lived for so long, like so many, deprived of earth to dig in. When I describe my dream to own my own land and live on it sustainably I almost always find myself apologizing for my selfishness, because it IS a privilege and it DOES feel mostly to my benefit. All the people in the world can't do this, because they'd do it wrong and there wouldn't be any forest left...But the land that is left needs to be managed regeneratively, and we need young people like you to do it!

You are far ahead of the game compared to me, starting from zero at mid-life, with gardening mostly academic. I too must scrimp and save and it's going to take me 5-10 years and I'll be lucky if I get to enjoy some fruit from a tree before I pass. And having to scrimp and save so, I sometimes resent how expensive these PDC courses are, if they are really trying to spread the message.

Reminds me of a boyfriend I had, who was all impressed with the owner of Patagonia's book about green enterprise, and how it was his mission to spread the word that everyone can make a living and be green. "So if that's his mission," I asked, especially since the guy is already a multi-millionaire, "Why doesn't he give that knowledge away?" I spent about four years giving knowledge away and the result was I gained more than I gave, so I don't understand why these programs need to cost anything above cost.

So what I'm saying is: Do both, Emily. Save to get that demonstration farm. You will pick up permaculture knowledge eventually, maybe after you have the land, through self-study, through observation, through trial and error, through classes later. And then demonstrate. At cost. Free when possible! Produce videos! Youtube. Tweet. Facebook. Go viral! Bus the inter-city kids to see what green really looks like. Let them get their hands dirty. Spread spread spread the message. It can be disseminated better to more people. And more people can have access to it. Be the change you want to see.

btw, I'm looking for community and can get buildings permitted! (hint, hint!)
 
Christian McMahon
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selfish = devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.

I don't think it's selfish to save for your future if your plan to help others. When you work for someone, no one expects you to do it for free, unless you volunteer.

If your cutting down the rainforest for oil you may be selfish.
If your fishing with TNT and killing more fish than you can use you might be selfish.
If your putting GMO's into food just for profit you might be selfish.
 
Nick Kitchener
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Unfortunately, it's human nature to resist any sort of change unless it's unavoidable. People in general will come up with all sorts of reasons to justify their adherence to the status quo and why a new paradigm won't work. Even is the face of hard evidence to the contrary (there are still people insisting that hugelkultur doesn't work).

Public health is a very good example of this on a large scale. People know that a lot of the stuff they do and put in their mouths is bad for them. This is not an education issue any more. They just don't care enough yet to change their behaviour.

You can make a huge change in he world by starting small - just like a snowball rolling down a hill. Proving that permaculture works by actually doing it shuts up most of the naysayers, and this is why Holzer, Mollison, Lawton, etc advocate just getting out there and doing it because they learnt this lesson decades ago. These guys didn't get to become global influencers by convincing corporations and bureaucrats to bankroll their initiatives. However, they did lay down a system of operation that is repeatable. If you want to be where they are, then the best thing to do is repeat what they did, because it is a proven path to your desired dream.

The key to becoming a global influencer is to know the appropriate time for transitioning from a little permaculture farm into something bigger. People tend to get comfortable after establishing themselves in an endeavour, and choose not to get out of their comfort zone again and push on.

Don't let the good rob you of the great.

 
Eivind Bjoerkavaag
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I'd say definitely go for land purchase!
 
Tim Nam
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hi, I just joined and am overwhelmed by the forums but i did read through this thread and wanted to respond. As far as thinking more broadly in terms of one's personal goals, (trying to create change at a larger scale) just looking at Occupy, 1) there are millions of us who know systemic change is necessary, however, 2) the powers that be feel threatened and aren't afraid to use violence to crush any organized threat. So decentralized efforts of non-participation in the dominant money system (aside from buying land?) are probably the best bet in terms of creating the world of our visions. Staying below the radar is safer and more effective, like mycelium, we just need to lie low and do our thing creating abundance and connection. Having said that, the more space that is created by our leaders for others to come up and live liberated from debt and money, the more the culture will snowball. A previous comment mentioned barely being able to manage five acres. It just seems like for every landowner who is living the dream, there must be 50-100 people like myself and the original poster who are still trying to save up for land, but have been learning and doing small things in rental housing, who could assist with the work of a permaculture farm. I guess what I'm suggesting is I'd like to see more eco-village type opportunities, which are happening...its just never soon enough, eh?

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