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Where do you draw the line?  RSS feed

 
Ann Torrence
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Two threads that popped up yesterday prompt this question: where do you draw the line in your permaculture design? I can't and won't do everything to be wholly self-sufficent in my food production. I think there are some good reasons not to even try. For example, my neighbors are much better equipped to raise grass-fed beef. I prefer to encourage them to do so sustainably by buying from rather them than raising a calf myself. I can keep the money where it builds my local economy, keep a calf out of a feed lot and keep from spreading myself too thin.

I see a lot of comments on threads that drift into to "all or nothing thinking." It becomes perverse when nothing is worth doing because it isn't perfect, like expecting homesteaders to produce 100% of their own food. If you want to do that, great. But I go another way: by growing a great product and encouraging my neighbors to do the same, I can use the market to spread the values of permaculture and community resilience outside my property's lot line far more effectively.

I mentally divide my time in this hierarchy:

1) stuff I do to raise our main crops for cash (farming)
2) stuff I do to raise our own food for negabucks (homesteading)
3) stuff I do occasionally to develop skills but mostly rely on others to do (hobbies and experiments)
4) stuff I just don't have the time, interest or investment to do well (below the line)

My time is split about 50% on #1, 40% on #2, and 10% on #3. #1 & #2 include everything we are doing to build fertility and sustainability in our operation. I expect my time allocation to shift more towards #1 as our trees mature and as our homestead infrastructure gets finished. For me, cheese-making is an example of #3, we sometimes make cheese for fun but mostly buy it. An example of #4: I have absolutely drawn the line at dairying. I don't have a dairy parlor and I choose to put cash elsewhere. I'd have to drink a ton of milk to make that pay. More important, it is not in my temperament to stick to the kind of rigid schedule a lactating animal needs. We buy raw milk from a local farm that supports our values instead.

Perfect is the enemy of good. The start of good permaculture design is setting explicit and attainable goals. It's easy for some, especially armchair theoreticians who have read all the books but don't actually have to break ice out of a bucket every morning, to suggest that you aren't doing permaculture right because you aren't doing x and y and z--even Carla Emery cautioned that she never tried to do it all at once! Instead, I'd like to hear where you personally have drawn the line on your projects so that you can do more good.
 
Adam Klaus
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My friend says, "The job of the artist is knowing where to draw the line."

Right now, I draw the line at hay, grains for poultry, oats and wheat, honey, cheese, and nuts. This is the furthest I have managed to push the line, as each year my homestead becomes more diversified and productive. The model I use in my planning is Alan Savory's concept from Holistic Management of 'the weakest link'. I am constantly evaluating my farm's productivity and my family's needs, and determining where the weakest link is to direct my efforts. The weakest link concept works well because it allows me to direct my efforts in the way that will return maximum benefit to me and my family.

I hear you on "perfect being the enemy of good". I would raise that a level though and say that "good enough is the enemy of better". I am just trying to get better. Perfect is a bad word in my mindset. But constant progress yields a consistently better world. So I aim for progress on my farm.

My fundamental priority on the farm is growing my family's nutrition. Calories have little to do with this. Based on my dietary philosophy, the key elements for nutrition are fats, vitamins, minerals, and microbes. So this is where I target my production. I follow the Weston Price idea of pastured animal fats being fundamental to human health. So I raise a ton of butterfat from my dairy cows, poultry and beef fat from ranging animals. I focus on nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, like spinach, broccoli, asparagas, strawberries, carrots, garlic, onions, chiles, and potatoes. I ferment a lot of saurkraut, yogurt, pickles, raw milk, and hot sauce for the microbial component. I probably grow 85% of my diet at this point, which is likely pushing up against the point of maximum return. But I will continue to make progress towards improving my self reliance.

I am happy to draw the line at mechinization. I let local folks with combines grow my oats and wheat. I let farmers with swathers and bailers grow my hay. I have no interest in these things. The way that I continue to make progress here, is by needing less hay and grain each year. I am learning to manage my cows in a way that uses less and less hay with each passing year. My family eats less grain as our homestead produces more, superior, foods. I am finding alternatives to these needs, rather than trying to produce them myself.

Nuts, cheese, and honey are in the long-range plan, they just havent risen to the level of being the weakest link just yet. I have nut trees in the ground, just not producing for many more years. Bees and cheese are things that require more of my labor than I have free at the moment, so they will have to wait. Maybe as my kids become older and more productive helpers on the farm. I can be patient.

Money is one area that I must maintain a very careful balance. I earn all my family's income off the farm, so I have to keep the family budget in positive territory. But I also refuse to allow money to be my primary motivator. I want to earn 'enough' money. Just like I want to produce 'enough' butter. Excess is the enemy of sufficiency. I just want to have enough, not any more.

Thanks for the good topic! Glad to be able to contribute.
 
Elizabeth Beadles
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Location: Evansville, IN
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Good question.

I think that self-sufficiency is real and very important, BUT I believe that many have misunderstood this to be a lonely journey, which it isn't. Self-sufficiency is about aligning yourself with a support system that you also contribute to.

Permaculture relies on a community within nature, and I believe that human beings thrive better within a community too.

So I think I personally draw the line at whatever is too much for our household to achieve. We live within city limits, so we are unable to keep livestock. We don't have tons of room for trees. We have excellent soil quality though, and so we can grow lots of vegetables, enough to feed at least one whole other family.
 
Ann Torrence
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Adam Klaus wrote:I would raise that a level though and say that "good enough is the enemy of better". I am just trying to get better. Perfect is a bad word in my mindset. But constant progress yields a consistently better world. So I aim for progress on my farm.

Love this idea.

Adam Klaus wrote:My fundamental priority on the farm is growing my family's nutrition.

Now that is a precisely stated goal to which you can evaluate your ROI (we all invest time, even if nothing else).

Adam Klaus wrote:The model I use in my planning is Alan Savory's concept from Holistic Management of 'the weakest link'.

And a process by which to sort myriad possible ways to invest time and household income.

Let me give it a go: my fundamental priority on the farm is to propel forward a local food economy that suggests another option beyond tourism and alfalfa. I draw inspiration from Ben Hewitt's The Town That Food Saved. Stefan Sobkowiak has the closest model to what I want to do. I don't want to own a stock trailer, because that path leads to distractions. I also need to age-proof this operation; there are no children or grandchildren to take on the heavy work in the decades to come.

Elizabeth Beadles wrote:Permaculture relies on a community within nature, and I believe that human beings thrive better within a community too.

hear hear!
 
D. Logan
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I actually wrote an article about this a long while back. I have long said that being self-sufficient doesn't mean being entirely independent and autonomous. We don't live in a vacuum. Assuming you manage to get every calorie from your own land, make everything you have from scratch, etc, you still have to rely on others. I doubt you are, or should be, smelting your own ore. I don't expect you are going to have extreme talent in every area. Should you learn the skills? Yes. Should you do everything entirely by yourself without any input from other human beings? No.

Do what you can and supplement where you can't. I can weave and can gather the materials myself. I am glad to have learned that skill. But at the end of the day, I am going to buy or trade for the baskets from the guy down the road who has several decades more experience and makes them far better. I might be raising more than enough meat and/or hunting for it, but maybe I want something I didn't think to raise or which would take more inputs than it is worth to raise. I think it is still more than acceptable to count buying from local sources as a form of independence. Community is part of independence in the end.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I have met many zealots who preach all or nothing. They want to produce all of their own food, grow all of their own fuel and avoid purchases of all manufactured items. They want others to conform to this ideal.

This is what they "want". When I check it out to see just how far down that path they've made it , the whole story falls apart. I've been far ahead of most of these people who sought to entice me into their brand of self improvement and self sufficiency.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Hey Anne:

First of all thanks for posting this thread and comparing/contrasting those other two threads. I found the thread on self-sufficiency to be extremely insightful but quite dense to get through!

Regarding how self-sufficient I, personally, can be - I'll repost from the that thread:

As a city dweller in a difficult arid climate AND a person with a disability, individual sustainability is actually NOT my goal. In fact, over time I've come to rank my PERSONAL permaculture goals as:

10% - all about ME - my food, my energy savings, my personal watershed (my social "Zone 1" as it were)
25% - my immediate neighborhood - interactions with neighbors, sharing tools, rides, information, surplus produce, skill sharing, recycling wastes... (social Zone 2)
25% - my city - how it deals with issues having to do with sustainability like tree canopy coverage/UHI mitigation, storm water mitigation, legislation regarding community gardens... (social Zone 3)
40% - my region (SW USA)- how we can address issues like rehydrating broad degraded landscapes, lessen our dependence on the Colorado river, mitigate salinization issues, use cattle to regenerate rangelands, create policy that benefits the environment AND people/profit, etc. (Social Zone 4)

Although certainly SELF sustainability is a worthy goal of permaculture and we need examples of people doing this - that is not ALL that permaculture is about. Indeed, I would argue that permaculture is more about restoring ecosystems that have been degraded (most of the lands that people have worked for the last 100 years) and bringing them back into balance while at the same time providing a yield for us as humans - both in terms of a food yield and a social yield.

In terms of achieving some kind of "perfection" of sustainability, I have this to say: Those of us ACTIVELY ENGAGED in projects, large or small, are by nature experimenters. If your goal is to be "perfect", you are no longer an experimenter, you've entered a realm of stasis and dogma at that point with little or no ability to change. There's already too much of that kind of thinking out there. It's usually put forth by people who have yet to get their own hands dirty. It's hard to be open to new ideas if you're operating from the vantage point of "dogma" or "perfection" - by their vary nature, these are not to be questioned.

So I will always choose to be an experimenter - it's just a lot more fun. If an "armchair permaculturist" offers me advice or criticizes my methods, I'll take that criticism for what it's worth - which most times is not much because there's no experience to back it up. If another person who is actively engaged in walking the walk offers criticism (which is often much more gentle than that of the armchair permaculturist) then my ears perk up and I pay attention and it becomes something of value to me - a learning opportunity.

Last time Brad Lancaster came to visit my site, I didn't realize he was in town and I became a bit flustered and apologized for all the "mistakes" I'd made with my water harvesting efforts. I'll never forgot it - he turned to me with a kind of quizzical look on his face and shrugged and said, "Who cares! Look at all the amazing stuff you're doing - you can't do that and not make lots of mistakes." (I paraphrase). As you can imagine, that made my whole day!
 
Jen Shrock
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I think (and have told many people) that permaculture can be as much or as little as you want or need it to be. It needs to fit where you are at and the goals you want to move toward. I am just getting started in the adventure and, if I were to think that I needed to do absolutely everything, I would probably overwhelm myself to the point of inaction. I think that we all need to take inventory of our talents and our goals, see how they align and not be afraid of supporting and being supported by the community around us. If people go back and really look at what the idea was founded on, it wasn't founded on isolation, but personal and, ulitmately, community evolution. I cannot, nor do I want to, be everything for myself. I would have to clone myself many times over to accomplish that. I don't feel guilty about that either. What has stared as a small foray into permaculture is gaining steam in my own life and I am wanting to make more and more changes to bring myself to becoming more sustainable.

What attracted me to permaculture is that the ideals and how I choose to apply them to my life are flexible enough to fit what works for me. I tend to get very frustrated with people that push things to an extreme, because I think that they end up hurting the cause rather than promoting it. I think that if someone is doing SOMETHING, that is so much better than the alternative and, in time, they generally want to continue to make positive changes in their life. It would be a shame to have someone's excitment and passion soured by an extreme all or nothing view. I think that the second principle of permaculture, caring for people, means meeting them where they are at, accepting that and, if they want you to, helping them to move toward where they want to be. "Infect" them with your enthusiasm and passion and give them a solid example of what can work. Don't be afraid to admit your mistakes and total flops (I know that geoff lawton has) and instead learn from them. That is one thing that I have shared with some that are concerned about even getting started for fear of doing something wrong. I have encouraged them to just start, just plant something...if it doesn't grow, figure out why and try something different. I let them know that each situation, each site is different and I can't give them a magic formula that will work. Figuring out what works and why is half of the fun!

I guess what I am saying is, yes, constantly be open to learning new skills. Master those where your passion lies. Do I want to do animal husbandry?? Not particularly. I get WAY to attached to the critters to make it make sense for me. I tend to love the design side of things, propigation and seeing if I can do things to push the limits on my growing zone or kick nature into high gear getting things to grow quicker. I am appreciating more and more the connectedness of doing much of what I do by hand, but I am realisitic about what I can do by hand and what I (for now) still want "mechanical" help with. I think permaculture is all about helping people be what it is they were created to be.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Well said, Jen!
 
Jen Shrock
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Thanks Jen. I look forward to your insight and words of wisdom too!
 
Adam Klaus
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One thing I overlooked above was apples. I definitely draw the line at dealing with codling moth for storage apples.

The super positive solution to this is that other farmers in my community grow tons of apples, and then trade with me. I am definitely much more motivated to grow things that I cannot get by trading with others. This is one of the assets to living in a agricultural community. I trade for apples, for oats, for cheese, and many other small items. Trading is a great solution that has so many benefits to it.

I find that the key to the barter economy is producing truly valuable products. Where I live, garden vegetables arent worth much, because when they are in season, they are so abundant. Eggs and milk, those are my best items of commerce. Everyone appreciates them, few people produce them. Especially the milk. Even folks that milk goats are always eager for a gallon of cow milk to skim the cream. So I agree strongly that community based food networks are fantastic.
 
Miles Flansburg
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What a great thread !
Bravo all of you!
 
Dale Hodgins
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Miles, I second that thought.
-------------------------------------------------------
Let's talk about risk, as it relates to how far we're willing to go down a particular path. We'd all like to accomplish certain things, so long as there's no chance of failure. I'm wandering off topic a little, but it's in an attempt to see where all of this desire for perfection is coming from.

I think for many, a belief that they must strive for perfection is likely to impede first steps. I know a man in his sixties who has been storing up knowledge and scrounged materials for 30 years, to use in a house that will never be built. The time is never right and he always thinks he needs to learn more, so that his will be a most perfect creation. I'd respect him more if he had built a mediocre house 30 years ago. Had that happened, there might have been more. Missed opportunity is so much worse than giving it a go and having to correct a few things later.

The TV and internet have spawned many armchair experts on how others should live their lives. People love to point out risk factors. I meet people regularly, who tell me that demolition projects are too risky, now is not the right time to promote a tourism business and there's no money in being a small farmer. Those things are brought up because they learn that I'm pursuing them. Had I told them that I'm opening a restaurant or a brothel, we would be discussing the down sides of those choices. If I were to devote a lot of energy into examining dire warnings about every possible pitfall, there would be little time for anything else. The greatest risk is that you will take none and stagnate as a result.

I know several smaller property developers who have dozens of projects behind them. They are often maligned by onlookers who covet their money and status. The guy who hasn't taken the risk, doesn't reap the benefits.

I see this same tendency to avoid risk at all costs amongst most of the single people that I know. Most complain about their lot, but they don't actively pursue the perfect relationship or mate that they desire. Instead, they perpetually keep their options open until the last one runs out.

Occasionally we see someone who is actually striving for perfection in what they do. This is something that comes from within that person. More often, we see perfection as something that others use as a measuring stick to judge us by. The chances that your efforts will satisfy the armchair expert who never risks for himself, are slim to none. Don't give the musings of this sorry creature, any of your time. To do so would empower someone who should remain powerless.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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This thread reminds me of the parable of the Ceramics Teacher. For those of you not familiar with it, here it is (reposted from http://www.lifeclever.com/what-50-pounds-of-clay-can-teach-you-about-design/):

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the 'quantity' group: fifty pound of pots rated an 'A', forty pounds a 'B', and so on. Those being graded on 'quality', however, needed to produce only one pot 'albeit a perfect one' to get an 'A'.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the 'quantity' group was busily churning out piles of work 'and learning from their mistakes' the 'quality' group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.


Lessons learned:
1. Don’t drown in the details
2. Quality improves with each iteration
3. Talking about it ain't gonna "get 'er done" and stymies the creative process
 
D. Logan
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Miles, I second that thought.
-------------------------------------------------------
Let's talk about risk, as it relates to how far we're willing to go down a particular path. We'd all like to accomplish certain things, so long as there's no chance of failure. I'm wandering off topic a little, but it's in an attempt to see where all of this desire for perfection is coming from.

I think for many, a belief that they must strive for perfection is likely to impede first steps. I know a man in his sixties who has been storing up knowledge and scrounged materials for 30 years, to use in a house that will never be built. The time is never right and he always thinks he needs to learn more, so that his will be a most perfect creation. I'd respect him more if he had built a mediocre house 30 years ago. Had that happened, there might have been more. Missed opportunity is so much worse than giving it a go and having to correct a few things later.

The TV and internet have spawned many armchair experts on how others should live their lives. People love to point out risk factors. I meet people regularly, who tell me that demolition projects are too risky, now is not the right time to promote a tourism business and there's no money in being a small farmer. Those things are brought up because they learn that I'm pursuing them. Had I told them that I'm opening a restaurant or a brothel, we would be discussing the down sides of those choices. If I were to devote a lot of energy into examining dire warnings about every possible pitfall, there would be little time for anything else. The greatest risk is that you will take none and stagnate as a result.

I know several smaller property developers who have dozens of projects behind them. They are often maligned by onlookers who covet their money and status. The guy who hasn't taken the risk, doesn't reap the benefits.

I see this same tendency to avoid risk at all costs amongst most of the single people that I know. Most complain about their lot, but they don't actively pursue the perfect relationship or mate that they desire. Instead, they perpetually keep their options open until the last one runs out.

Occasionally we see someone who is actually striving for perfection in what they do. This is something that comes from within that person. More often, we see perfection as something that others use as a measuring stick to judge us by. The chances that your efforts will satisfy the armchair expert who never risks for himself, are slim to none. Don't give the musings of this sorry creature, any of your time. To do so would empower someone who should remain powerless.


I actually worked around my own tendency to do this by building multiple houses into my plans. A first one to serve temporarily. I originally was thinking of a small straw-bale, but am now thinking probably a tiny home so I can move it around the property if I dislike something about the location. The second will be a more permanent structure once I live with the land for a year and know its patterns better. The second would be smaller than my final design, but big enough to be comfortable for a few years. I would place that in a less ideal location on the far end of the property. I will test a lot of ideas on this one so I know what works for me and doesn't and correct any issues on the final design.

After getting the final home done, I expect to use the second house as a place to let my mother move and finally retire. Not sure what I will do with the Tiny Home at that point. I might keep it around for interns or I might just sell it. Either way, the point is that by the time I get to my final design, I should have the experience to do it right and not look back at minor issues with regret. Knowing something isn't going to be a permanent version means you don't have to be paralyzed with fear of mistakes.
 
Ann Torrence
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We may contract for honeybees. He's interested in it as a hobby but we may not have time for a few more years.

We want to a cider conference early on. Speakers arguing about varieties, spacing, pests, markets. Finally one of the leaders said, "at the end of the day, just get the trees in the ground." That's what we did. We may have to topwork some. We may have to pull some. But we meet aspiring ciderists and they are still fretting while our trees are growing.

Then we went to cider school. I asked the instructor, who does a lot of consulting to start-ups, where the common failure points were. He said it was people trying to do too much at once-new farmers, all organic, Champenoise style fermentation, developing a market, running tasting rooms, every step in between, underfinanced and exhausted.

Get the trees in the ground. Don't try to do everything at once.


 
Ann Torrence
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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D. Logan wrote:I actually wrote an article about this


Can't read this, is a login required?
 
Charles Tarnard
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I am able to read it without a login. Mr. Logan's post is a pretty fair summary of his own article (go figure).

Perhaps try a different browser or computer?
 
D. Logan
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It shouldn't require a login. It might have been a server glitch or something to do with the browser being used.
 
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