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What Exactly is Surplus Anyways ?  RSS feed

 
wayne stephen
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The Third Ethic of Permaculture was originally stated by Bill Mollison as "Setting Limits to Population and Consumption" . Later it was changed and stated by Mollison as "Return of Surplus" . Even later it was restated by David Holgrem as "Fair Share" and Toby Hemmenway has stated it as "Share the Surplus" . Within the permaculture community this has stirred much political and economic debate as to the practical application of these principles . { I state the plural form of principle because obviously these interpretations are very different } . The aspect of this ethic that creates debate is not the need of our horticultural systems to have surplus returned in the form of mulch, manure , seeds , etc. Where the debate lies is in the level of material wealth a human being requires and how autonomy plays into their world view . Some permies feel that once a system meets our basic food / energy needs that the surplus should be shared . Others feel that they can sell the surplus and reinvest in their own system { Maybe I have a need for my kids to go to college or to purchase a solar panel that will run a washing machine } . The sensitivity to governmental coersion is expressed when permies start "planning" future communities that involve surplus being redistributed by mandate .
So , due to the fiery rhetoric which has been previously bashed about when this subject has arisen this topic has been off limits on permies.com . Now , finally , we have the Cider Press . I believe this debate is very pertinent to all as we start our individual systems and attempt to form communities . My own view of the Third Ethic can best be symbolized by a conversation I had with a wino in Phoenix who asked me " Got any spare change ? " My answer was " What exactly is spare money anyways ? ".
 
Dale Hodgins
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Whenever I hear fair share, I assume that it's coming from someone who produces less than their fair share, but would like to consume more than this. Any system that mandates sharing against the will of the productive person, ultimately must be enforced through coercion. It becomes a tax. I know that if I don't pay the taxes on my land, eventually agents of the state will show up with guns, to remove me from this property. I accept this reality and I pay the taxes.

We don't normally see people lining up to pay more tax than what is deemed the appropriate amount. Tax evasion, and requests for reassessment to have the bill lowered are common. Groups that form and make mandatory sharing part of their mission, will find that many people will rebel.
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As for the spare change drunk --- Tell him "Change comes from within". I heard that one 15 years ago.

I made this one up myself and have given it a run several times --- "I wouldn't want to interfere with natural selection". I only say this to perfectly fit young people who beg. I see no need to pick on the truly pathetic drunks and other addicts.
 
Cj Sloane
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I'll give it a shot.

Surplus, in permaculture terms, is the yield from a system in excess of the yield necessary to sustain the system indefinitely.

How you are going to return your surplus to the first two ethics seems to have a fair amount of wiggle room.
 
wayne stephen
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Considering that the people living in and working the permaculture system are an integral aspect of that system does the phrase "necessary to sustain the system indefinitely" pertain to them also ? Once again , ones view of what their true needs are determines what is surplus .
 
Cj Sloane
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People care is covered in the first ethic.

Certainly there is some wiggle room in the term "care" but the whole thing reads:
CARE OF PEOPLE: Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence.


I think "necessary" takes a little wiggle room out.
 
Robert Ray
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Who am I to share the surplus with? If I have surplus and preserve it or need to preserve it to prevent spoilage how much can I bank or store and not viloate the ethic?
 
Cj Sloane
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The text reads:
SETTING LIMITS TO POPULATION AND CONSUMPTION: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles [meaning the first two ethics].


So let's say you grew twice as many carrots as you could use. What are you supposed to do with the surplus? You could sell it and then use that money to do good things with (for yourself or your land). Or, you could feed the carrots to your animals, turning the surplus into a different yield of food & fertilizer.

What would violate the third ethic? Hoarding it (money in a bank for no purpose) or wasting it or somehow actively hurting people or the earth.
 
Paul Cereghino
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To make any rational assessment of a system you need to at some point pick a working definition of the system boundaries (or scale). From a system analysis perspective, we live in nested systems. A water system, a food system, a shelter system, and then other systems as we develop visions and dreams and the capacities to reach for them.

I suspect that very few of us live in systems that are stable and self sustaining in therms of the first two ethics. particularly when we find our selves less fit or able. Natural selection is a sharp apathetic knife. If we become sick or weak or otherwise vulnerable, then we may find out that our system gets larger then ourselves. Part of the energetic capital we manage is the maintenance and transfer of knowledge and culture and memory. Then we are on to family or community systems. At what scale does a human-natural system provide a dignified life for the weak, vulnerable or dying?

I suspect that ethics are meant to be debated, not defined. One of the place that ethics are debated is in the domain of government. Government occurs at multiple scales. One Mollison principle is to return power to the lowest organizational level possible. I once had a conversation with a white woman who grew up in the south during the civil rights movement. In her opinion, it took the power dynamics of a nation state to begin to untangle the brutal damages done by slavery. As a southern white woman with a care for people ethic, she found the idea of bioregionalism very dangerous.

Perhaps different kinds of surplus and sharing occur at different scales.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Well damn it. Here I am doing tireless research trying together enough material for the first permies ethics thread and Wayne goes and beats me to it.

Since this is a sticky subject,

(I for one don't feel I've ever gotten a 'fair share' in any job I've worked since I was 14 and mowing lawns. Some were far more exploitative that others, but I never felt I got an income equal to the percentage of work I did, including of course recognizing that there where operational costs not borne by us lowly laborers)

- perhaps I can start by asking if everyone here can agree that this , a recent article about the distribution of capital in the world, is in every way antithetic to "Fair share" "Setting Limits" and could only be interpreted by someone who is pathological as "returning surplus"?

85 people having as much wealth as 3.5 billion? That's surplus




Edited to fuss with text
 
wayne stephen
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We certainly have allowed this wealth to accumulate at the top by voluntarily purchasing IBM , Microsoft software , and using Google . If we don't believe such a small few should own so much we should be more careful where we ship our dollars . Warren Buffett by the way has pledged to eventually give back 99% of his wealth through the Gates foundation . However , none of those 85 made their wealth in a permie way . I believe permaculture seeks to ameliorate this economic disparity . Obviously , we would all have more access to the resources neccessary for survival . The decentralization of markets and monetary institutions would prevent the funneling of wealth to the lucky few . Individuals and communities would become wealthier . So , the ethical dilemna falls squarely in our own laps . Unless , like myself , you don't consider surplus wealth a dilemna .
 
Landon Sunrich
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So what of the 3.5 billion who have had nothing to do with this accumulation? I'm moving closer and closer to as poor as it gets here in the USA but I'm still pretty sure I'm within the 'top 3.5 billion' and not the 'bottom 3.5 billion' I'm pretty sure many of these people never once bought a Microsoft product or drank a Bud Lite, though they very well may have mined the metals or grown the grain to make these products possible.


Edit: I worked on an Organic Farm that used to sell food to the Gates Foundation in Seattle. Cases and Cases of produce to their kitchen. I'd even drive it in and deliver it. So I guess I've gotten that 'giving back' through the Gates Foundation. Problem is the "never having got a fair share for my labor bit" even in an undervalued field like food production. I've product tested for microsoft. I didn't get payed and I never cashed in my free products (seriously whats a 6th grader going to do with 2 free copies of Visual Fox pro... sell them on ebay?) Bill Gates is practically my neighbor - My high school Knowledge Bowl team went toe to toe with his favorite project school from Bellevue for state champs in the most epic match in the history of the 'sport'. I doubt sincerely I would be able to tap into any of that surplus even if I went begging on bloody stumps. Pet projects aren't real surplus sharing IMO even when they do actually accomplish something good.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Robert Ray wrote: Who am I to share the surplus with? If I have surplus and preserve it or need to preserve it to prevent spoilage how much can I bank or store and not viloate the ethic?


These are both really good questions Robert. I'd like to think everyone is capable of making there own personal and ethical decisions about these things. Certainly scale must come into this equation somewhere. Like, I don't think anyone can fault anyone for putting enough away for themselves and their families - or sharing a very limited surplus with one neighbor and not the other (that damn dog is in the garden again!) But as for coming up with a 'rule' that's hard and fast and applies equally to all parties... Eek... I'll have to get back to you on that one.
 
Michael Cox
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I guess one problem with this ethic is that it appears to be fundamentally anti-capitalist. While there are certainly flaws in the capitalist systems it can also be a force for good. If the ethic is driving permaculture out of the main stream economy it can only end up being marginalised and at a disadvantage to mainstream agriculture.

How can we hope to expand permaculture beyond the scale of micro agriculture and personal hobby farms if we tell farmers that they must "share the surplus".

Unless permaculture can financially outcompete industrial agriculture (through greater land fertility, stacking functions, etc...) you won't get large scale farmers switching over. If permaculture can be shown to out produce industrial ag then we'll see a massive expansion of permie farming and greater abundance of food. Greater abundance of food = cheaper food for all.

Micro-scale implementation of the ethic could well be working against the longer term benefits of greater adoption of permaculture. Is it "ethical" has to be weighed up against "does it work".

Mike
 
Landon Sunrich
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Which brings up an interesting question. What is the largest scale and/or most profitable permaculture anyone is aware of? Is it even possible for a truly large scale farm to switch their vast tracks of lands to a permaculture system and do so profitable?

It seems to me there are mile and miles and miles between mechanically cultivated monoculture and a replicated ecosystem with human beings designed into it (be it a food forest or great savannah or tropical atoll) I do not see how a agribusiness could begin to shift towards this when by law they are motivated by quarterly profits.
 
Burra Maluca
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I'm not sure how big his area of influence is, but check out Willie Smits.

This guy is my personal super-hero (sorry Paul...).

 
Cj Sloane
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Michael Cox wrote:
How can we hope to expand permaculture beyond the scale of micro agriculture and personal hobby farms if we tell farmers that they must "share the surplus".


The 3rd ethic doesn't say that.

It says
By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles
.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Burra Maluca wrote: Willie Smits.

This guy is my personal super-hero (sorry Paul...).


Interestingly enough this guy was motivated not by profit but by love of orangutangs
 
Michael Cox
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Cj Verde wrote:
Michael Cox wrote:
How can we hope to expand permaculture beyond the scale of micro agriculture and personal hobby farms if we tell farmers that they must "share the surplus".


The 3rd ethic doesn't say that.

It says
By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles
.


Thanks Cj,

That is interesting - I've been on these forums a while and never known the exact phrasing of these ethics beyond "share the surplus". "Share the surplus" is a nice catchy phrase which sticks in the mind but doesn't quite have the same meaning.

The ethic as you have written seems to be far more about restricting and putting limits on personal consuption than distribution of "surplus" in any form.
 
Cj Sloane
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That's why Libertarians can be drawn to permaculture. There is a strong emphasis of self-reliance:
By governing our own needs,...
 
Michael Cox
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Cj Verde wrote:That's why Libertarians can be drawn to permaculture. There is a strong emphasis of self-reliance:
By governing our own needs,...


But does that same ethic get in the way of wider adoptation? A commercial farmer can't govern the needs of his customers - he just supplies crops to the market. Self reliance is an aspiration a few have, but the real world is made up a terribly complicated interconnected web of exchanges between individuals, organisations etc...

If the message becomes "you can have permaculture, but you need to give up all THIS other stuff" where does that leave Joe Bloggs with his 9 to 5 job and small flat in the city?
 
Cj Sloane
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Michael Cox wrote:
But does that same ethic get in the way of wider adoptation? A commercial farmer can't govern the needs of his customers - he just supplies crops to the market.


The farmer isn't supposed to govern the needs of his customers - just his own needs.

But... Bill Mollison has suggested (perhaps facetiously) that being a vegetarian in the city is totally unsustainable because the surplus (manure) never gets returned to the land so farmers aren't getting a fair deal.
 
Robert Ray
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Market gardens outside Paris and New York made good use of manure from those cities when there were horses as transportation.

The Ethics are vague. Perhaps intentionaly so.
I want to increase production and abundance without harm.
I want to share, and that isn't only surplus but the knowledge.
I want to do better and that isn't just in protecting the land but in how people are treated.
With that I want personal freedom to determine how I impliment those things.
 
wayne stephen
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I am a selfish optimist . I am selfish - shamelessly - because I have a desire for personal wealth way beyond my simple needs . I am an optimist because even when I was living below the poverty line I was "tithing" ten percent of my gain to charity and will continue to do so . That ten percent has increased in value and I hope it continues to grow . I am an optimist believing that the permaculture method can abolish poverty in the world . I believe that it can accomplish this in a profound way . It is a far superior approach than LBJs War on Poverty which in my view has only made poverty more comfortable . It has not struck at the source of destitution and disparity . I am optimistic that permaculture can raise the baseline economic standard to at least lower middle class for all human beings . I am optimistic that permaculture can yield wealth enough to provide incentive to drive ingenuity , higher education , and entrepeneurship . I am selfish because I believe that being ashamed of wealth is a cultural impediment to yield . I am an optimist believing that my striving for personal gain is carrying others up that ladder with me .
 
David Livingston
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What is surplus ? Always reminds me when people say they are putting stuff away to pay for healthcare thats why I pay my taxes . I am lucky that I have always lived in countries with strong social care ethics . I used to pay loads of tax when I was in the Public sector and thats ok because I had a good job but now I only pay a little bacause I only earn a little . This stress on the ability to pay based on what you earn seems to me a lost ethic in parts of the world and this is tied up with what is seen as a surplus and what is seen as having enough or is that in another persons eyes greed ? I dont know how to square that circle .
But I dont have many needs and gave away to people and traded my surplus this year 100kg of pumpkins

David
 
Chris Kott
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Michael Cox wrote:I guess one problem with this ethic is that it appears to be fundamentally anti-capitalist. While there are certainly flaws in the capitalist systems it can also be a force for good. If the ethic is driving permaculture out of the main stream economy it can only end up being marginalised and at a disadvantage to mainstream agriculture.

How can we hope to expand permaculture beyond the scale of micro agriculture and personal hobby farms if we tell farmers that they must "share the surplus".

Unless permaculture can financially outcompete industrial agriculture (through greater land fertility, stacking functions, etc...) you won't get large scale farmers switching over. If permaculture can be shown to out produce industrial ag then we'll see a massive expansion of permie farming and greater abundance of food. Greater abundance of food = cheaper food for all.

Micro-scale implementation of the ethic could well be working against the longer term benefits of greater adoption of permaculture. Is it "ethical" has to be weighed up against "does it work".

Mike


This is a misinterpretation of capitalism. Traditionally, capitalism involves taking the net profit (i.e., the surplus after taking account of system costs) and reinvesting a portion of it, or turning a portion of the surplus into what is regarded as the capital, or what has been invested to start/grow the system.

Simply put, traditional capitalism IS the third ethic.

What is being described is capitalism's retarded bastard child that I like to call consumerism. It relies on people consuming as much as possible, often on credit to extents they can't possibly afford, to support economies that assume that constant growth is not only good and natural for anything beyond cancer, but count it a necessary part of their systems, an end unto itself.

As has been suggested in previous posts, it is very important to define terms and use them properly to have any kind of effective discourse.

-CK
 
Robert Ray
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I've used the garden analogy to describe capatilism before and I agree with you Chris. There is a difference between consumerism and capatilism.
 
Cj Sloane
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Chris Kott wrote:Traditionally, capitalism involves taking the net profit (i.e., the surplus after taking account of system costs) and reinvesting a portion of it, or turning a portion of the surplus into what is regarded as the capital, or what has been invested to start/grow the system.


I disagree.

A capitalist doesn't start with profit, it starts with... (wait for it) capital! True, this capital is ideally the surplus from another system.

My grandfather opened a factory. All his capital was sunk into that factory. Other people's capital was sunk into the factory too like 5k of his mother's money (this was in the 30s/40s). Once the factory was successful he had surplus but a large chunk of his wealth was the sunk cost of the capital of the factory.

A permaculturalist needs to operate the same way, sinking capital into her systems (food forests, animals, property, structures) which yield surplus.

As I stated above:
Surplus, in permaculture terms, is the yield from a system in excess of the yield necessary to sustain the system indefinitely.

Capital is what is required to create the system which ideally yields a surplus.
 
Robert Ray
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CJ,
What if it is a service? I could certainly sell a service with out any thing other than my time/knowledge/labor. I could go into the forest and harvest plants/seeds and obtain them for my food forest, capital acquired through sweat and time.
 
Cj Sloane
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Robert Ray wrote: CJ,
What if it is a service? I could certainly sell a service with out any thing other than my time/knowledge/labor. I could go into the forest and harvest plants/seeds and obtain them for my food forest, capital acquired through sweat and time.


I guess it depends on the service.

If you make a living foraging, the capital costs belong to whomever owns the land you're foraging off of, even if it's "the commons."

You still have costs, but they are production costs which aren't the same thing as capital. For the factory owner, production costs are labor, energy, raw materials.
 
Robert Ray
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In a ledger production costs labor would be factored into the end surplus. If your labor produces a surplus of something that would be the profit seeds, moola, beer, pie. Does an artist, musician, teacher, performer, compensated for a performance or lesson operate under your definition of capatalist?
 
Chris Kott
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I would like to see where you are getting all this from, CJ. These words have set meanings in proper context, and are not ephemera subject to reinterpretation based on whim.

If we can't let in excess of a century of political wrangling and tar-and-feathering go, I don't see how we can have a productive discussion on the matter.

-CK
 
Cj Sloane
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Mostly it's coming from my accumulated knowledge except for the "surplus" which I've used BM's definition.

Cited is discouraged on permies but it is important to define terms.

Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry and the means of production are controlled by private owners with the goal of making profits in a market economy. Central characteristics of capitalism include capital accumulation, competitive markets and wage labor.In a capitalist economy, the parties to a transaction typically determine the prices at which assets, goods, and services are exchanged

That's from Wikipedia's capitalism and they've cited this http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capitalism

No mention of surplus there - just profits - and to me they are not the same.
 
Cj Sloane
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Chris Kott wrote:
If we can't let in excess of a century of political wrangling and tar-and-feathering go, I don't see how we can have a productive discussion on the matter.
-CK


I haven't notice any tar & feathering here.
 
Chris Kott
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I know where you got it from. I have never liked that one. The whole Wikipedia article is evidence of the post - Marxist bias to which I made reference.

When they say profit, all that is meant is that they want to produce a surplus. Semantic games don't change the meaning and relevance of my original post.

With a system of accounting that includes social and natural welfare as well as system health and output (Triple Bottom Line accounting), expanding the scope of the system (or economy) to its real limits, capitalism has the potential to be one of permaculture's greatest tools; it has the ability to describe the benefits of permaculture in concrete terms, making our argument in dollars over time.

-CK

EDIT: what I mean by "extending the scope" essentially translates as "taking responsibility for." If we are talking about existing enterprises, some not inconsiderable cost is likely for clean up.
 
Cj Sloane
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Chris Kott wrote:
When they say profit, all that is meant is that they want to produce a surplus. Semantic games don't change the meaning and relevance of my original post.


Profit is not the same as surplus. Two different words, two different definitions. Discussing the difference is part of why this thread exists.
 
David Livingston
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I am curious on how we can ever measure surplus if we cannot agree what it is? Or should we reduce everything to $$$$ And who decides what things like my time or one of my pumpkins are worth .

David
 
Robert Ray
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Profit is surplus money when we are using currency as a measurement. Profit could easily be inventory, seed or a pie. When I make a transaction whether a trade for money or a trade for a cow the end result is either a profit or a loss regardless of the measure of exchange.
 
David Livingston
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I earn less money today than I have ever done since i started work in 1983 . Yet I consider my self in surplus as I have the Time to do what I want to do
What is money if it cannot buy what you want?

David
 
Chris Kott
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To use none of those terms, what we are talking about is some measure to ensure that we are getting out of a system more than we put in. If we bring capital to a new system, it is representative of whatever we did to get it, in most cases likely hard work over time. Efficiency.

I apologize if I have been heavy-handed, and I will clarify if I have been at all unclear. Profit is a word with too much baggage in this context. It carries with it an assumption that what is being generated is somehow superfluous. This is permaculture, so such a thing isn't possible. So permaculturalists using capitalism won't be generating profits, they will be encouraging a surplus after the ongoing needs of the whole system are met, and then using that surplus to encourage growth in existing or new projects, to grow and improve the system.

I believe the Amish, at least around here, have a standing policy of investing a portion of standing surplus in the purchase of land, thereby ensuring the growth of their system. This is a good example of what I am talking about.

My intention was to strip away the trappings of an international ideological feud that started a long while before I was born and has spent a long while being twisted for political reasons. If anything I said was interpreted personally, such was not my intent, and I am sorry for the misunderstanding.

-CK
 
Robert Ray
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Posts: 1351
Location: Cascades of Oregon
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Time is commodity I wish I had more of, unfortunately there is a finite amount of time I have here so if I need more I have to pay for someone else's time.
Profit or surplus is what I want from a garden I want more than the one clove of garlic I planted. I get ten cloves I have a 900% increase of my initial investment. I can change that into dollars that will let me conveniently store the surplus without spoilage.
 
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